Opinion — 26 September 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd
Corruption is the root of all crimes

We have had enough talk and band-aid solutions to crime … but none in authority want to get to the root of crime. Worse yet, the general population gets all emotional over every outburst of shootings and clamor for the moment then settle back into the same old ways until the next wave of crime. Sadly that general population as a mass does not seem to analyze the problem and its solutions as a mass and the lack of that collective response, cripples our ability as a nation to find a solution.

Rather, as a people we mistakenly take the approach that it is the politicians who must solve the problem. My humble view is that while our government has a huge responsibility we the people must influence that solution and have our voice heard, because too often it is the actions of those in government that have set the foundation for the crimes we now are reaping. Bu if we the people remain sucked into the corrupt system then we cannot envision, much less articulate the solution.

I say that corruption is the root of crime because when all layers are peeled off, it all started with corruption. So using the definition from Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Corruption (noun) is: dishonest or illegal behavior especially by powerful people (such as government officials or police officers); the act of corrupting someone or something; something that has been changed from its original form. A full definition reads as: a:  impairment of integrity, virtue, or moral principle; b: depravity, decay, decomposition; c:  inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means (as bribery); d:  a departure from the original or from what is pure or correct.

So my use of the word “corruption” is not only in relation to legal issues, but also moral and ethical issues.

Corruption robs us of our funds

When we look at the issues of corruption in government and the use of public funds, the reason why the average person cannot detect its corruption in the way the decisions are made, is simply because we have gotten into a culture of legitimizing corruption. For example, the way contracts are issued, licenses are granted and funds are disbursed, by the mere fact that we no longer have a transparent system or process to decide who gets these, is a testimony to the fact that we changed the original checks and balances to be able to facilitate the issuing by those in authority. And our leaders legitimize it because they are backed by those benefiting, and neutralize the critics by asserting that they have the mandate of the people to so act, by the mere fact they won the majority of seats and thus are the ones in office. And even when processes are in place and this is brought to the attention of those in power, they sweep it away and turn the issue to one of political attack.

I can think of many recent examples, but will only mention a few. For example, when the members of the board of the Belize Airport Authority went ahead and approved monies to be paid to Minister Edmund Castro without going through the lawful process under the Belize Airport Authority Act, which required the approval of the Minister of Finance who is also the Prime Minister, they corrupted the process…. Yet to date not one has been held accountable, except the board was dismantled and those same players recycled into some other entity because of their political connection. Thus the corruption of said process has been legitimized by the fact that the ultimate decision-maker did not use his power under the law to address that corruption, because of political expediency.

Another example so glaring yet swept under the rug is the entire scenario of Elvin Penner and his program to help his constituents pay to get their nationality so they could ultimately vote for him and his subsequent ascension into said governmental office. Once in power, he asked to be appointed to office as Minister of State and then given Ministerial powers to sign documents at the Immigration Department, despite the Constitution not granting such power to a Minister of State. This is a flagrant corruption of the power that he held before in office and while in office. This is a total disregard for our Constitution … so in the limited definition people use they see corruption as only bribery … but it is more. Corruption is a change in the original way of doing things, without lawful authority. There was no lawful authority to give that power and this was compounded by the many things done not to address the various legal and constitutional breaches.

Rather, to make matters worse, the internal investigation was led by the very Minister, Godwin Hulse, who in the first place should have been the only one to so sign those documents, thus making the buck stop on his deck. Yet Hulse was appointed to lead the investigation of himself and his Ministry… and the masses don’t see the corruption in that flawed process.

At the local government level, I say it is corruption when City and Town Councils give their own counselors licenses for establishments, such as Pier 1 Bar, when it is a number one rule of anti-corruption that an office holder cannot benefit personally from office held. I stand corrected, but I am yet to see the bidding process used to determine who got the license for that location and the minutes printed to show how the voting went and what safeguards were put in place for the councilor not to have an advantage over the other applicants.

In all these instances when we trace the money, we see the financial loss the public coffers take, and the loss of integrity and confidence cannot be measured. Any money lost from the public purse is money that could have gone into development plans and schemes for the nation, so the country collectively benefits and not individuals. Everyone who has benefitted financially from these know exactly how they got the money and how much. Now I do not expect any to have a conscience and disclose this but rather I expect only denials… because this is moral corruption as well.

Systems corrupted

Now I gave recent examples but this does not mean that we had not seen the root of said corruption since self-government. Then it took on another form and face but was the same thing. For example, in the days of old when our first set of Belizeans were at the helm, one documented system that they instituted and which we can still trace, is the way in which scholarships were awarded. It was not an open, level playing field system in which no matter your political background, surname, or abilities, you stood a chance to be considered: rather, it was “who you know.” If we go back into the records it will be noted that every member of the First Families got a scholarship to go abroad; either to be a doctor, lawyer, accountant, military officer, and the list goes on. However, despite that being wrong, subsequent governments have not changed it. They complain while in opposition, but milk it while in office. Scholarships are still based on who you know and if you are a good constituent … we can even take a count of how many children of the politicians are away studying.
Thus the system of issuance of scholarships to study abroad has been so corrupted that deserving Belizeans do not get a chance to go study … others at great lengths and sacrifices do it on their own. This kind of corruption robs us of more than just money: it robs us of our integrity, our morals and our respect for each other. It also polarizes us and divides us along the political lines.

And this is only one example of a system corrupted. Other systems equally corrupted are the distribution of land; issuance of all sorts of licenses, from bus runs to gun licenses; awarding of building contracts; granting of public service employment; appointments to statutory boards and the list goes on.

Police system also corrupted

Then there is the corruption in the work of various offices, departments, units, statutory bodies, etc. However, I will focus on corruption at the Police Department, where the independence of police work has been severely compromised by the political directorate. In recent times, clearly the investigation into the Elvin Penner passport fraud involving Citizen Kim is the most striking example of police failure to do their job. To date Penner is yet to be questioned, much less detained and, worse yet, charged by the Police Department, despite the mandamus the court issued on the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, who will go down in history as the most incompetent investigator yet.

Yet compare that to the instances where, without even committing a crime, as part of the illegal preventative detention, men are spending time at Kolbe Foundation on remand, as I write, until they can afford to get an attorney to file for Supreme Court bail. Just imagine that. The focus here is not necessarily to get a conviction but rather to lock away these men for as long as possible, even without basis. Of course no one in authority is considering the anger, hate, vengeance and retaliation boiling up in these men’s veins as they know all too well that the system has been corrupted to railroad them. And in some instances the government has seen it fit to legalize the corrupt system by passing some law which, albeit contrary to the person’s right to liberty, has to be challenged in court. Those really affected are the poor, and the poor just do not have the finances to take this on.

Preventative Detention more corrupting than helpful

Simply consider the news that about a dozen have been charged with gang-affiliation and thus can only get Supreme Court bail, if they can afford it. Yet when, no other than the Prime Minister and the high command of the Police went to have several meetings with these so called gang-leaders, Section 2 of the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Act (CCCJA) Chapter 102 should have been implemented and said men arrested and charged there and then. But no, they were allowed to flaunt their power in the face of the law. Now they expect obedience to this law?

I say, now, that no one better than these officials who have the names of the gang-leaders and met with them in that recognized capacity should furnish their names and testify against them. But they cannot do it because when they opted to have those several meetings with the gangs, they corrupted the purpose of the CCCJA and went rogue instead of allowing the proper powers to be exercised under Section 5 of said Act, which empowers no other than the Director of Public Prosecution to appoint a Committee of Inquiry to investigate the “detection and prosecution of gang-related offences.” So why did the PM and Police have to negotiate with these alleged criminals and, in some instances, convicted criminals?

What is amazing about dealing with criminal matters and meeting clients of all walks of life, is how much they know about police corruption and to which political offices it reaches. They can tell of the police trade-off that occurs with really high profile gangsters, drug traffickers and the like, in return for their freedom, guns, grenades and information. But said trade-off is not designed to get convictions and get convicted criminals behind bars … rather it is simple trade-off for freedom in return for the arsenal. So who illegally got the arsenal into the country will never be caught and surely never convicted in our courts. So all the crimes being committed with firearms will not stop because the sources of the firearms are shielded and the Firearm Act is just a smoke screen to get at the little man, but not the big dealer and his police and government facilitators.

Yet, sadly and stupidly, the little foot soldiers keep killing each other. They fight over nonsense; some can’t even remember why. They walk around with this false sense of power and respect and so are blinded by the fact that they really are dispensable because many more like them are being farmed and harvested.

I say more are harvested, because all the corruption I spoke about above and cannot even address now, leads to only one thing – poverty, lack of opportunity, no ambition, low morale and a sense of hopelessness. This in part is because the system has been robbed of the monies that have been mismanaged, not collected, improperly issued, unaccounted for, used to gain political mileage, given as political patronage, spent on bloated contracts, and the list goes on … but that would have been the same money that could have been properly accounted for and used to create equitable projects, programs, schemes and systems so every Belizean has equal opportunity and access, from the boys and girls now on the street to the office holder, who is as much a target of crime.

The political patronage system will not help solve crimes. It is unsustainable since it is based on always just handing out and the receiver never tasked nor made responsible to become productive. It is the classic “teach a man to fish, not give him a fish” approach we would want. Yet for some reason our entire system of governance and politics has becomes so corrupted at all levels that our Prime Minister (and others before him) has to focus on what he can give to his people to keep them happy and not what a person can do for the country. Remember JFK said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Our mental conditioning over the decades has been the contrary… too much of us begging for what the country can do for us…. And offering nothing about what we can do for our country.

When this widespread corruption has spread to the point of acceptance and the norm, it is harder to fight, because it is built–in and is successful based on the inherent human nature of self-serving interest first. Only great leaders are self-sacrificing for the greater good of all and it seems we are yet to have one of those in Belize and they seem to come around every other century … so we might have only couple more years to wait or another century!

God bless Belize!

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