It is standard for all political parties/presidential candidates to promise economic prosperity, and show what strategies they will employ to lead the people to that state where they all win. Every country is about improving its economy; for us it’s about leaving poverty behind; for others, such as the US, it’s about getting more, piling on top of what they already have.
Colonial governments weren’t about putting Belizeans first, but self-government in 1964 came with the promise that better economic times would come. It’s been almost 60 years since we took control of the physical assets of our country, and while better has come for some business folk and those in professions that call for high academic qualifications, for the masses hope exists only because it’s the nature of the human spirit. The present government probably deserves a bit of a pass, for it inherited a dismal situation because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the why of hunger doesn’t assuage the pain.
Delivering economic prosperity for all calls for increasing the size of the pie AND also for its just distribution. The US economy is reportedly doing great, but the United States Census Bureau reported that in that country, the richest in the world, the “official poverty rate in 2022 was 11.5%, with 37.9 million people in poverty.”
The Republican Party controls the US economic system, even when that party is not in control of government. The Republicans are for the dog-eat-dog, trickle-down capitalist economic model. That model has produced great wealth; Macrotrends says the GNI (gross national income) per capita in the US in 2022 was US$76,370! But even though their pie is so immense and there is more than enough for all, because of the poor distribution of their pie, many families live in poverty.
Socialist countries basically guarantee education, quality health care, food and housing for all their citizens. For various reasons, one of them being in the grip of the 60-year trade embargo the US imposed on them, socialist Cuba’s pie isn’t so large. But they insist on everyone getting a bite.
The system in the five Nordic countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland – is described as welfare capitalism. They are among the wealthiest nations in the world. Macrotrends puts Norway’s GNI per capita at US$95,510! Norway’s poverty rate in 2019 was 0.50%.
The main difference between the US and the Nordic countries is the tax rates. People in those countries, just as in the US, can express their talent in the “magic of the marketplace”, but they pay far higher taxes than the Americans.
A report from Nordic info says, “Although the development of the welfare state meant growing taxes and an expanding public sector, it also increased participation in gainful employment, especially among women.” But, the report says, because of an economic downturn in the 1990s “social benefits were reduced to promote incentives to seek employment”, “the tax burden was reduced and the public sector slimmed” and “as a consequence, public spending as a share of GDP has shrunk.”
Belize has delivered prosperity, but only for some. Depending on the measuring tool used, our poverty rate is as high as 55%, or not as high at 35%. When all of us win, our poverty rate will be 0.50%. Sometime back, one of our prime ministers said we will always have poverty. But it should be as it is in the country with the 0.50% poverty rate, where the only “excuse” for poverty must be that you resist earning money.
Capitalism, the system that dominates this hemisphere, is a failure when it does not guarantee the basics of accessible education, quality health care, good housing and food. There is discontent in the state where people’s basic needs aren’t satisfied. In such a state, the elite have to employ many security officers and make enormous jails to keep the starving in society at bay. Our business must be about increasing the size of our pie, but not only that, we are to watch over the distribution of the slices.
Transparent government should be a given
One of the big reasons put forward for our failure to progress economically is our governments’ resistance to transparent governance. It is a promise in every party manifesto, that the party will deliver transparent government and stamp out corruption if elected to office. Sixty years after self-government, such promises shouldn’t be in any party manifesto, for that is a standard we should have attained long ago. But the 1993 UDP manifesto was all about delivering Belize from the corruption of the PUP, the manifesto of the 2008 UDP was all about delivering Belize from the corruption of the PUP, and it was a feature in the 2020 manifesto of the PUP, after the UDP had failed to deliver on its promises.
How some countries got such great wealth is largely rooted in the past. What is in the present is that at the base of their continued prosperity is government that is transparent, anti-corruption, government that exists to better their people. Based on our gross national product, Belize is not a rich country. And Belize’s governments have not been viewed as transparent, anti-corruption.
Looking at a few countries, we see the GNI (gross national income) per capita for Singapore is US$67,200; for Barbados, US$19,530; for Panama, US$16,750; and for Costa Rica, US$12,670. The Transparency International Corruption Index Perception report for 2022 ranks Singapore at #5, with a score of 83; Barbados ranked #29, with a score of 65; Costa Rica ranked #48, with a score of 54; and Panama ranked at #101, with a score of 36.
The earnings of people in the countries mentioned are, at minimum, double the earnings of Belizeans. In the case of Panama, their GNI per capita is a little more than twice ours (our GNI per capita is US $6,800), yet their Corruption Index rating indicates their governments are corrupt. The Corruption Index says “two-thirds of countries score below 50, indicating that they have serious corruption problems.” Fortunately for the Panamanian people, their gross national income is boosted by a strategic manmade waterway, the Panama Canal, which Marine & Oceans at the website marine-oceans.com says earns them “almost 2.5 billion dollars” and “accounts for around 6% of its GDP.”
The Belize Press Office says that since 2008 Belize has not been listed on the Transparency Index, but that our Good Governance Unit is working hard toward “bringing Belize up to readiness to implement anti-corruption measures, both nationally and internationally.” While Belize is not listed, “using the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, Belize’s level of Control of Corruption was calculated at 45.67% out of 100%, indicating that Belize ranks around 47th to 52nd of 180 countries and territories ranked by Transparency International’s CPI.”
No manmade system or human being is perfect. Transparent government won’t make us perfect, but we’ll surely have improved governance. We don’t have a Panama Canal. Our single oil well is nearly dry. Making all of us win might not be so easy. But giving us transparent government is no great task.