Features — 24 August 2019
Corruption and nepotism prevail in Belize

It’s good to look at our country’s national development through the eyes of the oldest newspaper, having just celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. When Amandala started, it was at a time when young Belizean blacks were pushing for a higher level of black consciousness, nationalism and for sure involvement in the national life.

I was brought to my earlier recollection of politics, it was between my 7th and 11th birthday, when public meetings were still a major event. I recall the frenzy amongst adults talking about BAM coming to town and wanting to cause problems, and it was all black people from Belize City causing the problem. I knew BAM meant Belize Action Movement, from what the adults said, but I cannot speak much about it because I don’t remember enough details, as those details, I am sure, were never discussed.  See, then in Corozal, as is still the case to some extent today, we feared the blacks of the city, because they were deemed aggressive and violent and challenged the colonial government, which many of our forefathers were not willing to do. Plus, the discrimination was such that we did not trust any black leader. I am telling you as it was and how I recall it as a child. The thinking of the elders was to influence us and make us equally scared. But, honestly, the “fear” they projected excited me even more, and I wanted to know. Sadly, I did not get to attend, and the mystery of who were these organizers made me forever even more curious.

By 1981 I experienced first-hand another level of trauma in relation to the local politics, as the then Minister of the PUP, Florencio Marin, was our neighbour just three houses away from us, and with the Heads of Agreement issues and protest against Independence, came violence to our doors. It was a school day and I remember my father sent to get all of us from school, as there had been a note threatening the kidnapping of the children of prominent cane farmers as a result of the protest against Independence. I recall reaching home and seeing Marin’s house well-surrounded with village men with machetes on them. Shortly after, I heard from the adults that there was a shooting and one Silvino Riverol was killed. From my understanding the opposition party was opposed to us obtaining Independence, but that the George Price-led PUP party wanted us to gain Independence, which I did not even know what that meant then.

Truth be told, the PUP then had full lockdown on the elections there and never lost an election, at least to my childhood mind and recollection, and I was trying to make sense out of it. However, my take then was that the people could have their say as much as they wanted to, but at the end of the day the party in power would have their way!

Fast forward to present day

I tell this story because for a long time it stuck with me that the adults were saying we should never be led by a black man, because he is not to be trusted. Even the UDP believed that for a long time, and so from my understanding of the internal politics of the party, the financiers handpicked Manuel Esquivel, who became a two-time prime minister, to lead the party. To date to me, he has been the only prime minister who has been more financially responsible and able to put our economy on track.

I left Corozal, however, and experienced racism at every level in the City as I found that black folks did not like us either. Strangely, they called me “yellow-belly pania”, sometimes “ingine”, a corrupted version of Indian, and I was even called Maya and Spanish and every variation of these.  My family was mixed, and my parents, well, they had a big heart and helped people of all walks of life, so I was so exposed to all races of people, I had to come to terms with all the variations of racism. I can’t say my parents treated people differently based on race, especially my father, who seemed to have helped or picked-up every “stray” needy person.

With time I learnt to navigate life in Belize City, and as I lived and experienced life I was able to challenge some of those old folks’ beliefs regarding race. I also got to join a political party, if only for a season, and realized that I was not cut out for the lies and corruption involved in the internal workings of the party, that are then translated into the kind of representation members of the party give at the national level.

I recall as a child feeling as though the PUP was invincible, having not lost any election that I knew of as a child until 1984, when I was in high school. I remember George Price being like a god to the people of the North, since they felt he gave them land and a cane industry and they were eternally grateful. They did not know then, as many do not know now, that politicians are not giving you anything; they are only facilitating what is rightfully yours, and your taxes are paying for these, and they are also using your taxes for personal and corrupt gains.

Then I learnt about Philip Goldson and how he single-handedly stood up against the great blue party, even in his blindness, and he was a force to reckon with. I grew up and got to interview him and got to see his demise in politics as he slipped up once and compromised with the UDP, and there went his credibility. That is a whole story of its own.

Then there is Dean Barrow, whom I met, and throughout my career as a journalist I interviewed him and found him then, as now, to be a man of lots of words, full of himself, and refusing to ever admit he had made any mistakes. He is narcissistic and arrogant, but he always seemed to have the answers and was Esquivel’s go-to man. He is also a spin doctor with words, and I believed that his legal training made him able to cast a spell over all when he spoke. While I did not always see eye to eye with him, at the height of the PUP corruption, I could not wait, like many other independent-minded Belizeans, to vote out Said Musa, who was unable to bring the transparency, accountability, and development he promised, and which we optimistically looked forward to. Let’s face it, his corruption stinks to date!

So I, wanting a change, hoped that Dean Barrow, who always came off cool with his saviour-complex, could finally prove himself and show that there was at least one leader, who was above-board!  I am not ashamed to say I campaigned and convinced many to vote red in 2008, because we just needed a change. I was not of the view that a black man could not lead us, I was not afraid of his blackness, though he was not in my view a pro-black advocate. As a matter of fact, he seemed to love the material things of the white men’s world, his Rolex watches and Armani suits being the most notable for their high price tags. The PUP then had to go, as today the UDP has to go… they are full of corruption too!

Corruption knows no colours

I know from being in the UDP’s higher echelons briefly, that then many of the candidates and their supporters were vultures in the waiting. And I knew this because they would openly talk about the various chairmanships they wanted, and the stipends, and the vehicles, and the posts, and the land, and the myriads of benefits… but I consoled myself that Barrow said he would not be like Musa and allow those corrupt Ministers and their crimes to get away. He vouched he would change it. As a matter of fact, we did not forget his promise to have a double-edged sharp machete to cut off the head of corruption. I don’t know if he ever bought the machete, or if he ever got around to filing the edges sharp, but I know for sure he has never once used the said machete, and that under his leadership, corruption is of a higher stench than that of Musa, who is not exonerated nor pardoned in my books by this fact.

Barrow has gone at lengths to disassociate himself from involvement in or knowledge of any corruption of the members of his party, even when it has been his closest associates. One thing he cannot deny, however, is that his own law firm, from which he has never given up his share, was the attorney for the Sanctuary Bay Enterprise and its various forms of affiliates. And I know this first-hand, having had to sue the Sanctuary Bay folks on behalf of a client and having seen no other than Rodwell Williams from Barrow & Williams represent both Sittee River Wildlife Reserve and Eco-Futures Development, which are just some of the companies, entities, or names by which the Sanctuary Bay folks are known as, or use.

More importantly, I wonder how come there have been the many Gapi Vega land schemes and scams, the Penner visa and nationality corruption, the Auditor General findings of over 50 thousand passport and visa illegalities, the road and street contracts for millions, yet inferior work, the bulldozing of Noh Mol Mayan temple by a Guatemalan, the de facto occupation of the Sarstoon by Guatemalans and the countless scandals and even proven instances of illegalities, and yet, he seems to never know of these, nor to be willing to mete out any form of punishment after these scandals became publicly known. It’s as if the dead body is rotting in his room, yet he can go to bed each night and not smell it.

In my books, at school we were taught “birds of a feather, flock together,” and in this case he is the leader of the flock, yet he wants to convince us he is clueless as to the corruption. I have said it before, and I will say it again: this UDP administration has taken the PUP book on corruption and released a revised, more updated, version and has perfected the art of corruption. And worse yet, they have found ways to legalise that which is illegal or was illegal and corrupt.

Dean Barrow personally has amended the law to get away with illegal acts, and the best case of that was his passing the Petrocaribe Act to cover up his violation of the Audit and Finance (Amendment) Act, which required him to take to the National Assembly for approval the borrowing of loans for $10 million or more. He borrowed more than $10 million from Petrocaribe and when he was caught red-handed (no pun intended) he refused to admit he was wrong and face the law, and instead, acted above the law and passed a law making it retroactive for him not to have seek approval for the loan with Petrocaribe, so those illegal acts, by law, now became legal after the fact.

Said Musa likewise violated that same law, and he faced his time at court and got his verdict, but you have to give him credit; he never went to pass a new law to cover up his violation, and he could have, too, as he could have passed the UHS Loan Act, and like Barrow, made it retroactive and made it an exception case, just as Barrow did with Petrocaribe! I did not forget that Barrow did that. This involved acting above the law, which is a violation of our Constitutional tenets that state, “No one is ABOVE the Law”!

And all of you can be fooled by it, but I am not!

Money is at the root of corruption

But then Barrow is at it again, with the explaining away of monies. I am still awaiting copies of the five write-off motions tabled in the National Assembly this week. From reports I know, one is the write off for Joshua Perdomo of a loan of some $40,474.88 BZD. Per the document floating in social media, the reason for this write-off is that the said Joshua Perdomo, who is the son of the Cabinet Secretary Carlos Perdomo, cannot be found. Instead of the Government going after his guarantor, as is the norm, since all bonds must have a guarantor, the Government has opted to just write it off.

Now please tell me if you believe that Barrow really believes that his right hand and Cabinet secretary cannot find his own son? I want to know who the guarantor is, and I demand full and frank disclosure, since it is taxpayers’ money being written off.

Even more insulting is the fact that this said “Joshua Perdomo” had gone to study for his Master’s in Forensic Genetics, a field we so badly need in this day and age when we need trained forensic specialists to return to Belize and help us establish a state of the art forensic lab to be able to prove crimes, especially murder, in order to secure more convictions.

We paid for his training and he never came back, and we are to believe this young man from such a prominent family cannot be found and made to pay his bills to us, and we are to believe his guarantor is not being pressured to pay it.

Find his bond-holder and sue him! Mein, this is what I mean by the legalization of corruption, and the level of nepotism is amazing. Imagine how many other committed Belizeans could have done us well with this scholarship!

Then there is an even bigger write-off, and this time it is for $90 million. Yes, it’s millions.  Apparently, a group of well-landed landowners owe property taxes, and it has ballooned over the years, and they have refused to pay it. Instead of the Government taking them to court and then, if needs be, obtaining the right over the properties for which taxes are owed so as to sell it off to off-set the taxes owed, Dean Barrow, with no shame on his face, is saying he is going to write it off!  Wow! And double wow!

However, in the same breath when our government is letting go of $90 million of our revenues, it has decided to sign a loan agreement to borrow $100 million from the Republic of Taiwan to pave the highway from Corozal to Sarteneja Village. But the thing that is not adding up is that he claims 47 miles of road will be paved and rehabilitated, but I just recently travelled to Sarteneja, and it is only about 27 or 28 miles from Corozal to Sarteneja. Now, if he says we pay a million dollars per mile, then how come it’s not a 100 miles we are paving?

But again, this is a perfect example of how the corruption of cronies who don’t pay their taxes is made legal by use of the National Assembly, which seeks to make these write-offs into law! So don’t tell me Dean Barrow is oblivious to the corruption in his party! See why I say corruption and nepotism prevail, and the hope that I had in Dean Barrow as a leader to be better than Said Musa, is dead, as he has become worse, yet that kettle keeps cussing the pot “black!” My people, corruption and nepotism have no colour or race!

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Deshawn Swasey

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