It is not impossible that privatizing the Boledo, handing it to Brads Gaming Company Ltd. to run for ten years, was an extremely wise decision by the UDP government in 2009. Our national treasury was gaining less than $1 million from the game, and the contract reportedly called for $2 million annually as a licensing fee, and business tax.
It is generally accepted that private businesses are run more efficiently than public ones, and it was common knowledge that the big vendors were skimming the profits of the Boledo; however, many felt that if government kept the game and put in a little effort to arrest the larceny, the gains for the national treasury would be greater than what we would get, have gotten, from privatizing it.
It wasn’t lost on the populace that the UDP government privatized the Boledo just a couple months after nationalizing BTL. One reason for this contradiction probably lies in who got the Boledo contract. The primary owner of Brads Gaming Company Ltd. is the owner of Brads Store in Belize City, a popular hangout spot where some government ministers and their cronies play dominoes, drink, and shoot the breeze.
Over the years the Brads contract has been criticized, partly because of the roots of Boledo, a business that was introduced by Belizean laborers returning in the 1940’s from Panama, where they had gone to work on the Panama Canal. Many felt the contract for the game was given out for a song, and there was also unhappiness because the system Brads put in place eliminated a number of traditional vendors.
It was expected, or there was hope, that the contract for Brads Gaming Company Ltd. would not sail through when it came up for renewal, and the government did invite interested parties to apply when the contract expired.
A contributor to the Amandala told the nation that their information showed that 60% of Brads Gaming Company Ltd. is owned by Brads, and “the rest is owned by Good Lee Limited, an IBC company which is registered in Saint Lucia.”
The contributor said that besides Brads, there were bids from someone “connected to the Scratch and Win game, and one from an unlikely candidate, the National Olympic Association (NOA).” The NOA’s proposal had it teaming up with International Gaming Tech, a company that reportedly runs the national lottery for the Olympic Association in Barbados. The contributor said that if the NOA won the contract, it planned to use the profits to set up a sports fund to assist sporting federations and charities in Belize. If our guess is right, the bid from the NOA was the sentimental favorite in Belize.
No official information was revealed about the bids, but we aren’t in shock because, as we all know, we must have the record for most secret deals in a democracy, by far.
On July 3 the government, via a press release, announced, to the surprise of only a few, that Brads Gaming Company Ltd. had won the nod to run Boledo again, until 2030. The government said that a Lotteries Tender Panel they set up received three applications, and their decision was based on “a quality and cost-based approach.”
The government said that the documents were submitted to the Office of the Contractor General for review, and since there was no objection from that office, the contract with Brads was signed. The release stated that “the executed license and contract will be laid before the House of Representatives at its next sitting as required by the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act.”
Everyone knows that taking the contract to the House of Representatives is just a formality, and from there it will be passed to the Senate, just for the rubber stamp, so this contract is a “done deal.” In Belize, none of our “check and balance” systems are functioning, so Cabinet does as it pleases.
In a healthy democracy the ruling party is not allowed to ram through all its decisions. In a healthy democracy there is meaningful opposition, and sometimes that opposition is able to put the brake on without resorting to rallying the people to take to the streets. In a healthy democracy decisions made by Cabinet that pass through the House of Representatives have to go through another layer of meaningful scrutiny, the Senate.
There are critical issues for which a Senate with teeth is needed, and in some countries one of those is the selection of judges. The selection of a judge in the USA is extremely weighty, because there is a great divide in that country over issues such as abortion, homosexuality, religious rights, and stem cell research. There is no political divide over these important issues in Belize, so the appointment of judges is not of similar consequence, but there are important issues here, one of those being transparency in the issuing of government contracts. Unfortunately, in our warped system all we can do if we don’t agree with this Boledo contract is complain.
The PUP governments of 1998-2008 fell out of favor because of suspect handling of the nation’s resources, but they unquestionably did more to improve our governance systems than any governments before them or since. One of the reforms the PUP of 1998-2008 introduced was an expanded Senate that included the social partners. By the end of the PUP’s second term, in 2008, an enlightened electorate was demanding more from the Senate, and the PUP proposed an elected Senate, while the UDP proposed a 13th senator to give the body more teeth.
The 2008 general election was about corruption, and the UDP’s 13th senator coat-tailed a UDP victory, but it took a number of years before it became a reality, and when it did it was because the UDP had ensured that one of the social partner representatives was in their control. The 13th senator Senate has no teeth, so our only hope to save us from the all-mighty Cabinet is an elected one (Senate). Some third party leaders had been pushing for that, but it seems this go round that they are devoting all of their energies to redistricting, and finding resources to contest the next general election.
It should be that this Boledo contract, issued to a party favorite by a government that is just months from facing a general election, is thoroughly vetted by an elected Senate, and if it is not, the best deal we can ensure is that it is turned down. Unfortunately, it will sail through both the House of Representatives and the 13th senator Senate without even having to make a tack.