Editorial — 02 October 2019
Belizeans gave UDP a chance: now they disrespect us

The Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber, has a history of being honest about the dishonorable deeds of his party, the United Democratic Party (UDP), and he has passed off quite a few of these deeds as standard government practice. Faber is very much like our present Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, who infamously said when discussing a Vega scandal, “It is what it is”.

Recently, when DPM Faber was asked about the $40,000 write-off of a student loan that had been given to the son of a prominent colleague in his party, he actually, surprisingly, spoke out against it. His lapse into the realm of honor and decency, however, didn’t last a week. He told the media, on the return to his old self, that, well, he had to conform because he was a part of Cabinet.

Hon. Faber and the Hon. Dean Barrow didn’t exactly endorse a Gaspar Vega (Hon.) candidacy for their party in the next general elections,  but they showed no discomfort when they discussed his increased involvement in the party’s affairs. DPM Faber said that he is always cordial with Vega, and the Prime Minister said that although Vega has been absent from House meetings, he never left the party.

Hon. Sedi Elrington, in his discussion of the possible return of Vega to electoral politics, under the banner of the UDP, said that Vega hadn’t told him that he is planning to run, but on Vega’s decision to “become much more politically active”, he thought it “was a good thing” because he is a competent young man and he wants to assist our nation. Elrington said an active Vega was “a good gesture” and “we all have an obligation to try to keep this Jewel pristine and safe.”

No one bothered to interview Hon. John Saldivar about the possible return of Vega to electoral politics, and that could be because he doesn’t reside in the media capital, Belize City, or because he and Vega are known to be bosom buddies. If Elrington and Faber, who are merely cordial with Vega, are game for his return to political activity, based on UDP modus operandi, Saldivar must be applauding, celebrating, in fact.

Shame, it appears, is not a part of the UDP’s game. All that’s left is for Mr. Elvin Penner to insert himself in the Cayo North East race. With the party’s stated criteria being, “can you win your seat”, if he can show such winning potential, any life in a candidacy, well, in the next general election the party could march behind a band playing, “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s all here”. We know they don’t care.

When decades have assuaged our pain on seeing honor trampled into the dirt, which could happen if our economy is good and lawlessness is contained down the road, we may look back on these years and laugh. It is a comedy, but we can’t laugh now, because the joke is on us.

Immediately after the UDP was returned to office for their third consecutive term in the early November 2015 general election, Hon. Vega was removed from his post at the Ministry of Natural Resources. A couple years previous to that, Prime Minister Barrow, on a trip to Los Angeles, had famously referred to Vega’s Ministry as a “hotbed of corruption.” Shortly after being removed from his Minister desk at Natural Resources, Hon. Vega resigned from Cabinet and announced that he would not be running for election again. He did not, however, resign from the House of Representatives.

Let’s be clear here: Hon. Vega has not been found guilty of any crime. He may be the most honest, brilliant person in this country. He may be the warmest, funniest, most caring, most loving person, as a senior colleague said of him. He may be an unfortunate victim of circumstances. The cold fact is that he was accused of wronging this country, and he didn’t get called to answer before a Senate Select Committee.

Life can be unfair sometimes. Really, it is not impossible that Hon. Vega is simon-pure. A man is innocent until he is proven guilty. The activities of Hon. Vega have not been investigated. If he had been investigated we might have found that all the accusations were false. Quién sabe?

Our concern here is for Belize. It does not look good for us when the governing party embraces a candidate who is perceived to have faults. It makes us look like the kind of country that is begging for our citizens to be disrespected when they go abroad.

The British, the people from whom we inherited our system, Parliamentary Democracy, perfected it over generations. It didn’t take us very long to corrupt it. An honor code is built into the system. That’s why people who are elected get the lofty title – “Honorable.” Take honor out of Parliamentary Democracy and the system becomes a cruel joke. A joke on the people.

The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) — maybe they’re out to turn over a new leaf (they have their share of past failures) – are saying that Caribbean Shores aspirant Mr. Lee Mark Chang is corrupting the registration process. The PUPs are saying that a dozen people are registered at a building on Kelly Street. Hon. Faber, who is very honest, even about deplorable activities and decisions, says both parties do it, have done it, so he doesn’t understand what the fuss is about. He also suggested that there is some ambiguity in the law.

Hon. Faber used himself as an example. He told the media that he lives in Belmopan, but he has his family home in Belize City. Faber’s case is not a good example. Home is where the heart is. Home is where everyone knows you by your name, not because you are a government minister, but because you are a part of the community’s fabric. There is no need for any indecision on his part about where he should register.

As in many things, there are grey areas. Choosing where to register can be a dilemma for unattached young people. There are many students of voting age. Many of them are unsettled. Transient workers, and Belizeans living abroad, also have to do some serious thinking about where they’ll register. Some of them end up away from home for so long that they develop interests in two communities.

There is an area that is written in black and white. It is not lawful to pile mature people into a home where they don’t live. The law does not allow for this. It is a crooked practice, and it is wrong for the ruling party to embrace it, when they have the power to insist that the spirit and the letter of the law are observed.

In the realm of the lighter side of bad things, these party caucuses must truly be fascinating when they start juggling the numbers in each division. Deals are made. Intraparty enemies are denied. Government is won; government is lost. In one case, in 1993, a PUP favorite, to solidify his position in Belize Rural Central, gerrymandered his party out of government.

The PUP is to be congratulated for calling for respect for the law. The smaller parties, so-called third parties, have been calling for respect for the law for many years. The UDP was expected to correct these ills in the system when they came to power. Instead, they use the possibilities to enhance their chances at the polls.

A little over a week ago, at a press conference, the Prime Minister feigned anguish over the handling of the arrest of a Belizean transiting the US. He said they had disrespected one of our citizens, and us. He couldn’t have been serious. He and his party have to know, have to have connected the dots and seen that what the US did to our citizen, they, our leaders, do to us. If you disrespect your own you can’t demand that others accord them respect.

The UDP is out of place. They don’t own this house. They came, hat in hand to us, and asked us to allow them to serve. They were “maaga daag” then. Now they disrespect us.

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Deshawn Swasey

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