After the recent general election, our new prime minister, Hon. John Briceño, made a call for persons appointed to statutory boards “to follow protocol, tradition that they should tender their resignations…”, but the new party in control of government is not confining the request/demand to persons appointed to statutory boards by the previous government; it is also calling for contract officers in other departments to go voluntarily too.
The December 6 editorial in the newspaper owned by the ruling party, The Belize Times, said, “we must next put emphasis on the contracts worth millions that were signed with political appointees who refuse to vacate their posts.” The editorial said that those political appointees who helped the previous government fleece the country’s resources should vacate their positions, and if they don’t, they are considered as being involved in “a scheme which blackmails Belizeans into paying for their removal.”
There is still a bad taste in many of our mouths after the 2015-2018 UDP City Council in Belize City gave a contract to a senior officer that extended well into the term of the 2018-2021 administration. The 2018-2021 administration, PUP, and the people of Belize City had to eat the fat contract to remove the officer.
Prime Minister Barrow said that contract officers hired by his government were not political appointees, but were professionals who brought specific expertise to their job, but there is not a living soul in Belize who doesn’t know that the majority of contracts given out by the UDP were to members or sympathizers of that party.
In the old days, senior officers in government departments were exclusively civil servants, permanent staff who came up through the ranks, but of late, especially since 1998, our governments have reached into the private sector to pluck persons who have some talent, persons who are almost always sympathetic to the party in power.
It is the duty of civil servants to carry out the directives of the government, even if they find them distasteful. Martin Stanley, on the website, civilservant.org.uk, says no matter how controversial a government’s policies are, no matter how much a civil servant disagrees with the policies, that civil servant should carry them out. Stanley says a civil servant’s “professional code requires him to carry out his instructions with complete loyalty.”
This professional code does not include unrestrained zeal, something that a contract officer will bring to the execution of policies/directives that the civil servant might find unpalatable. The contract officer comes with an added bonus. Some of them are engaged in a wholesale way in helping the party that hired them retain power, sometimes illegally using government equipment to do so or sharing their opinions on public media to advance the fortunes of their party.
There is much to be done to improve the system, for successive governments have taken what we inherited and watered it down to the point where it is a shell of what we had when we moved from self-governing status to full independence in 1981. The PUP argued that bringing in Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) from the private sector would cut the bureaucracy, and speed up and increase the effectiveness of government, and while no jury has come in to say whether we achieved that end, it is a clear verdict that since the CEOs were put between the ministers and the department heads in the public service we have seen corruption in government as never before.
As in all things there are grey areas, and the matter of contract officers is no exception. If a person were on a contract and had to invest money to get the job done, it would be proper for the new government to have a talk with them. The opposition UDP presented evidence in their newspaper, the Guardian, that a laborer had been fired by the new government. It is always a concern when a laborer loses their job, because at their level on the pay scale, they seldom have the reserves to fall back on, but we are aware of laborers who were hired just to do party work.
The new government says it will cost the country millions of dollars if we have to eat contracts that are held by persons who are called to do the honorable thing and walk away from. Our country can ill afford to pay what we don’t morally owe.
As we discuss these things there are young people in our country who are in desperate need of medical help as they battle life-threatening illnesses. They and their families are stressed to the limit emotionally, and on top of that, if they don’t get help they will be financially ruined. These families need assistance from the government. Public funds must be used to help those young people and their families; it is the LEAST we can do.
Contract officers are hired to produce sterling work that should result in the party they serve winning at the polls again. They have a share in the blame when the party that contracted them loses. Trying to force their way into the service of a government that is not their party isn’t honorable. The contract for the City Council administrator was declared to be legal, but it wasn’t moral. It isn’t wrong for a person to sign a contract that extends well into another administration, but if the party that signed that contract with them is booted from office, they should kiss that sweet contract goodbye.
The people at the top must set the example, and where our governance is concerned those at the top are our political leaders and their top employees. It’s a terrible culture we are encouraging here. Parliamentary democracy has a built-in honor code. We shouldn’t have to be driven from office. We vacate a job because it is the honorable thing to do.
The Belizean people are tired of losing, and this new government has promised that all of us “fi win”. We don’t want any excuses from our new leaders if they fail to deliver on their promises. Our former government gave contracts to persons who they felt had the expertise to help them deliver on the promises in their 2015-2020 “The BEST is yet to come” manifesto. These persons weren’t hired to deliver on the PUP’s 2020-2025 “Plan Belize, Everybody fi win” manifesto. It doesn’t make sense to ask a government to keep people who were hired to serve a different master, or for us to pay them.