If you ask the average Belizean in the street, what form of government our country has, he/she would most likely, and proudly, declare that we are a parliamentary democracy, or a constitutional democracy. Democracy is the key word; as we all know, we have that right to go to the polls every five years to elect area representatives to our National Assembly, and every three years, as we will on Wednesday of this week, we get to elect our city mayors and city and town council members. Village council elections are also held every three years. We know about casting our votes, and seeing the results of our votes change faces in government, so we are sure we have a democracy. In regards to the parliamentary and constitutional part, we have a general idea, but the effective details are not as specific and clear. We know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. And at least we understand that we have a National Assembly, consisting of the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together form the legislature that makes the laws that govern us. Then there is the Executive, which comprises the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister along with his appointed Ministers; and finally, the Judiciary, headed by the Chief Justice along with all the members of the Supreme Court and Magistrate courts. But when something flares up in the news regarding government officials, we seek to understand how the system might have failed us, as in the current situation involving Director of Health Services (DHS), Dr. Marvin Manzanero.
Actually, if we go by past election records, Belizeans generally believe that our elected leaders (party) have repeatedly failed us. How else can we explain the recurrent pattern of us going to the polls at general elections with the expressed purpose of “voting out” the incumbent party from government?
Check the stats: Since Independence, we voted out the PUP in 1984; we voted out the UDP in ’89; we voted out the PUP in ’93; we voted out the UDP in ’98; the pattern was only tripped in 2003, because the numbers were “fudged” with massive commercial borrowing, which was revealed in 2004; and so the PUP were voted out in 2008; the pattern was again tripped twice, in 2012 and 2015, because of loads of free money the UDP had available through our oil well, Petro Caribe, timely donations from Taiwan, and a big lie about BTL; and so we voted out the UDP in 2020. What have we as a people learned? Will corruption eventually get the better of whomever we put in government?
These repeated changes of the leaders (party) in government seem to indicate that the Belizean people are not happy or satisfied with the way we are governed. So, what is the problem? If it is democracy we want; and it is democracy we have; then why are we so repeatedly turned off by the leaders (party) we had enthusiastically chosen after one term in office? Is the caliber of individuals we as a people produce as leaders not good enough to get the job done? Or is the “system” of government inherently flawed, so that whomever we put there will fail and frustrate us, so we feel the urge to “vote them out” at the next opportunity?
Following the pattern of the times, the minority party, the UDP, has already launched their opposition campaign against the majority party in government, the PUP. Barely a hundred days into the new government’s term, every misstep of the PUP administration is amplified and attacked ferociously by the members of the minority party, who are now “the Queen’s Loyal Opposition.” But do we need an opposition for opposition’s sake? And does it help the discourse when a leading member of the minority party will boldly declare to the public, without even smiling, that they left a “healthy economy” for the PUP to manage? Can we try to be honorable and fair-minded in our public discourse, so that ordinary citizens can begin to understand where we are as a people, and where we need to go? “Trumpian” lies and distortions only serve to confuse the people.
It must be this “party” politics that has brought us to where we are today. All this negativity; always “we” against “them,”where everything the other side does is bad, and everything that our side does is good. Is that the recipe for elected individuals to slide down the slippery slope to corruption, knowing that their “party” will try to cover for them? Maybe we should just ban all political parties for two years after general elections. Let’s try and work together for the people for just a little while, before we start campaigning against our government for the next general elections.
The new PUP administration has made some good moves in their first one hundred days, but they have slipped in a few areas, and may need some reminding. Interestingly, despite great progress in handling the Covid-19 pandemic, the most attention has been given to a gaffe in the handling of the Dr. Manzanero case, a gaffe that can likely be traced to a “systemic” flaw that both the PUP and the UDP are guilty of endorsing, and that is the CEO arrangement in government ministries that has superseded the Permanent Secretary system. And it is because government employees are subject to the rulings of the Public Services Commission; and thus the trained personnel who come up through the public service are better equipped to avoid the costly errors of the CEO in the handling of the Dr. Manza case. And the PUP administration gets the full blame for it.
We all love Dr. Manza; he was the lonely and faithful face on TV that led us steadily forward each evening as we endured the deadly impact of the new killer in our midst, the Sars Cov-2 virus, that shook up our world beginning in mid-March of 2020.
But in the midst of this ongoing national crisis, the new PUP administration that took office on November 11, 2020, has a right and duty to make structural and strategic changes in the Ministry of Health in its quest to better serve our people. However, “It ain’t what you do; it’s how you do it.” And that may be one more good reason to revisit this CEO arrangement inside the public service.