In days of old, development was slow because the only inquisitive minds that had the resources to explore the wonders of the earth and the skies were the closest associates of the ruling classes. Eons stretched between the development of the boat and the triangular sail.
Then, the Europeans found that Chinese gunpowder could propel bullets, and this advantage gave them control of the world, since 1492. The Europeans gained control of all the labor, material wealth, and knowledge in the world, and they built universities where great advances were made in medicine, and the physical sciences.
Research is the key to development. Research costs a lot, so a small country like Belize is dependent on the bigger countries and regional institutions for much of the knowledge it needs to advance. The environments and physical and social structures etc. in countries across the globe are different, so our scientists study the information from the bigger countries and regional institutions to find out what works best for us.
Research is the key to development, so many of our best students are sent abroad, via government scholarships or scholarships given by friendly nations, to increase their knowledge. After being trained abroad these students are expected to return to our country to impart what they have learned. The knowledge they gained, combined with the knowledge students get in our own universities and tertiary institutions, are supposed to expand our vision and improve our efficiency, so that wealth can be increased for all.
In some instances it is better that our educated citizens work abroad. In an extreme example, there is no space program here, so we cannot utilize much of the knowledge a young person has in that area. It is best that the person trained in this field works in a country that has such a program, and that they give back to us by investing some of their earnings in our country.
All this investment to increase the knowledge of our young should translate to a better standard of living for all Belizeans, but this hasn’t happened. We know that there has been individual financial advancement — with the educated Belizeans enjoying a better, oftentimes far better, standard of living than most Belizeans who don’t have their educational qualifications. Too often it seems to end there, and it shouldn’t. The fact is that despite our many educated citizens, Belize is not economically viable for much more than 50% of us.
Some worldly Belizeans have suggested that one reason that we are failing is that there are too few of us. If Belize had 3 million people it would translate to a ten times bigger market, and wouldn’t that be great for our productive sector. Increased production would lead to lowered cost of producing goods; every producer would benefit. Imagine ten times more people to buy our wangla sweets, cheese, beer, and newspapers. Imagine ten times more people to buy the works of our musicians, painters, and sculptors.
A larger population would be a boon in many areas, but it could negatively impact the country in some ways. If we distribute 3 million people over Belize, it could threaten our rivers, lagoons, sea, and forest because ten times more people would occupy ten times more space and produce ten times more waste.
It would take a special effort to protect our environment. One way would be to concentrate our 3 million people in cities and towns, where they would live in 10- and 12-storey buildings with many apartments, and to use the waste they produced to generate bio-gas for cooking and fertilizer for our farms.
Belize’s population is growing, incrementally, and some day it is quite likely that we will reach 3 million people. A greater population will mean greater opportunities for earnings, but it won’t mean less poverty if we manage our country the same way we do now. As night follows day, 50% of us will still be barely scratching out a living if we don’t right the things that are wrong with our country.
We have made considerable investments to educate our people so that we can become more productive, but that has not happened. Why aren’t our educated sons and daughters delivering the full bang for our investment in their education?
There is a suggestion in some quarters that educated Belizeans have capitulated to corrupt political leaders. Retired BDF major, Major Lloyd Jones, in his September 20 column in The Reporter, said that our growth as a country is retarded because of “a proliferation of Yes Men in key government positions.” Major Jones said that for plums such as promotions, access to land, scholarships, etc., many public officials have become increasingly willing to be controlled by the political class.
Some people note that Yes People became the order of the day when career public officers, Permanent Secretaries, were replaced at the head of government departments by politically appointed CEOs. The products of this structural change are increasing corruption, little transparency in our governance system, and a small section of the population that is greedily gobbling up most of the national pie.
Most of us thought it wasn’t possible for our political leaders to become more powerful, but they have. They are by no means a useless breed, because there has to be leaders, preferably democratically elected, to ensure that the development in the country benefits all. Unfortunately, there is not enough development in our country, and of whatever development has taken place, 50% aren’t getting a sufficient share to sustain them and their families.
We have the talent, but we are just not seeing the results we expect and deserve. Where there is success, credit must be given, and where there is failure those who are responsible for it must accept blame. Those persons who have the capacity and are in a position to lead us to better days, persons whom we invested so much in and expect so much from, have to be questioned.
Our educated citizens do have some things to answer for, but on the matter of our development most of the fault lies with our political leaders who are suffocating the system with their corruption and cronyism. In this oppressive environment our educated people are stymied, unable to use all of the knowledge they have worked so hard to gain, for the good of the rest of us.