Under the stewardships of two of the smartest attorneys and political leaders in the modern political history of Belize, Rt. Hon. Said Musa and Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Belize has ended up owing Lord Michael Ashcroft $95 million plus, and counting, and there is nothing we Belizeans have to show for it except egg on our national face.
Mr. Musa, still the area representative for Fort George in Belize City, and Hon. Francis Fonseca, his Attorney General at the time when Mr. Musa used $40 million in grant moneys from Taiwan and Venezuela, separately, to clear up a debt which cronies of the then ruling People’s United Party (PUP) had accumulated at the Belize Bank, a debt guaranteed by Mr. Musa’s Government of Belize, argued in the House of Representatives last Friday afternoon that when Mr. Barrow’s United Democratic Party (UDP) came to power in February of 2008, the said debt for the Universal Health Services (UHS) hospital stood at zero, zilch. The debt didn’t exist.
Mr. Barrow, his Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber, and other UDP Cabinet Ministers were arguing back in the House Friday afternoon that the Taiwan and Venezuela $40 million had been illegally diverted to pay the UHS debt, that the Taiwan/Venezuela moneys had properly belonged in the Consolidated Fund of Belize, moneys which Mr. Musa could only have used had he presented a case for its dispersal to the House of Representatives. Mr. Musa had not so presented.
The personal insults were flying back and forth across the “honorable” House’s aisle when the gunshots began exploding in broad daylight in Southside Belize City around 2 p.m. Friday afternoon. In less than 36 hours, five men had been murdered (two perhaps innocently) by gun violence in a weekend which was opening Belize‘s 2018 September celebrations, with the Belikin Bash and the Queen of the Bay contest on Friday night, and a University of Belize fund-raising dance, King and Queen judging for next Saturday’s Carnival parade, and another edition of the Belikin Bash on Saturday night.
If the gentlemen responsible for getting us into the $95 million debt for which we have nothing to show are the brightest we have in Belize, then just who are the Belizeans who were firing the guns and who were being killed between Friday afternoon and Saturday night? Somehow, somewhere, there has to be a connection between the idiotic $95 million debt and the supposedly senseless gun violence.
The $95 million debt is only idiotic for those of us who will have to pay it someday. There were PUP-connected cronies and “investors” who accessed $12 million in Development Finance Corporation (DFC) loan funds in the first instance where the UHS project was concerned, and they messed up the money. But, they and their political patrons were playing with house money, which is say, public moneys. In other words, where their personal financial situations were concerned, no harm, no foul, for the principals. These are very bright people. The Belizean people pay. Later, there were UDP-connected attorneys who were paid millions and millions in legal fees, after the UDP came to power and reversed the debt payment to Belize Bank, in order to fight Lord Ashcroft’s battery of attorneys and accountants. The Belizean attorneys were overmatched. Belize lost case after case. The Belizean people pay.
The gun violence is not senseless for those who feel this is the only way they can survive, by trading bullets with rivals who seek to control the territory of city streets which they need to transact their criminal, underworld business. These are Belizean males who were failed by Belize’s education system, in that while they were children, they were not properly educated or equipped with marketable skills. Having physically survived childhood and adolescence, their daily reality became a case of kill or be killed. This has been going on in Belize City, our population center, for more than a quarter century.
The fact of the matter is that Belize’s political leaders, both UDP and PUP, have failed the people of Belize. Our political leaders have their own excuses and explanations for why they have not been able to educate, house, and provide health care for the citizens of Belize. Some of their excuses and explanations are valid, because not only did they inherit a primitive, colonial economy, but when they enter the regional and international stage to negotiate, there are embedded power realities which place Belize in an underdog position.
In the post-1964 era of self-government and the post-1981 era of political independence, we Belizeans have held our attorneys and political leaders in the highest of esteem. The problem was that both Mr. Musa and Mr. Barrow, as Prime Ministers, were too powerful, because of a political constitution and system we had inherited from the British, and which both political parties adjusted to increase privilege which is practically monarchical.
In the matter of the UHS debt, Mr. Musa behaved in an extremely stubborn manner, insisting on using public funds to pay a private debt, a private debt which he was apparently viewing as a party debt, a PUP debt. Because of Mr. Musa’s stubbornness, Belize came near to civil insurrection in May of 2007. Mr. Musa was a tough guy.
Mr. Barrow, for his part, was the cutest of the cute. While we are tempted, we can hardly say he outsmarted himself, because his cuteness will not cost him a personal cent. The Belizean people pay. The refrain is now an old one, a sad one.
We have been told that those who have been exchanging murderous gunfire for more than a quarter of a century belong to gangs. The question we should ask ourselves today, is just what exactly is the nature of the two political parties to which both Mr. Musa and Mr. Barrow have given their separate loyalties. Are there characteristics of these political parties which are gang-like? Why should it be that in so many cases the interests of the ruling parties are treated as more important than the interests of the Belizean people? Since both Mr. Musa and Mr. Barrow have been guilty of similar sins, then we submit there must be faults which are systemic, in the first instance, and which lie in the very nature of our two major political parties.
As we conclude this essay, we would say that we have tried to show you that there is a relationship between the $95 million and 5 Southside murders in 36 hours. Public funds should be sacred moneys. The public funds of Belize are sacred because they are intended to provide for the lives and livelihoods of our people in such a way that we do not believe we have to be murdering each other in order to survive.
Something is terribly wrong in Belize. All of us Belizeans condemn those Belizeans who have been branded as gangsters. But there are other Belizeans who have to share the bitter blame for Belize’s 2018 crisis. These are Belizeans who are protected by the UDP and by the PUP. The UDP and the PUP have become bigger than Belize, the nation-state. The UDP and the PUP are our new masters. It’s no longer about British colonialism, beloved. Today, it’s all about Belizean corruption.