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Tuesday, September 29, 2020
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To Fire or Not to Fire

Dear Editor:

I must be the first to confess that there is much that I do not like about the United States, but will also be the first to confess that there is much I love about it. The Americans have managed to build a First World superpower in a relatively short period of time over their short 200-plus years of existence. They have done this through innovation, hard work and a vision of where they wanted to be in the future. Their leadership had their eyes on global influence and they did everything to push their national interest to achieve that. The US has always, and that’s even before this current administration’s public pronouncement, placed American interests first. Those who have not seen this are blind. While there may be those who disagree with this, I will save that conversation for another time.

Any country that fails to put its national interest first is prone to fail and, as I have always said, if Belize had done that we would not be in this terrible situation we are in now. The Americans long realized that unity and patriotism would form a key pillar to their success and that while party politics was important to their democratic process, it would not form the basis of their success. At the middle and lower levels of the American political hierarchy, party is of little concern. The Americans ensure that for the most part the right man is doing the job and getting the results that they want. Money drives the American system and while it should not be solely dependent on that, they also take into account that money can do a lot of things and make the lives of a lot of people better. The Americans may be divided on a number of never-ending issues which include religion, politics, culture, the way they are governed, the environment and a multitude of other issues which are too numerous to mention. One thing holds common, however: Americans all view themselves as Americans. In times of crisis, patriotism and the idea of being an American is even greater, such as during World War I and II and the 911 attacks. In other words, one thing is certain — the Americans know when to unite when there is a common threat and when national interest is at stake.

The US is one of those few countries that will actually put someone from the opposing party in levels as high as the cabinet despite the fact that the political system is not designed to be ruled by what would commonly be seen as the typical democratic coalition. This goes back as far as Washington’s cabinet, which had opposing Federalists and remains a practice throughout succeeding presidencies all the way to Trump. Some notable examples include Robert Gates, a Republican serving as Secretary of Defense in Obama’s Democratic cabinet; Norman Mineta, a Democrat serving as Secretary of Transportation under Bush’s Republican cabinet; Alan Greenspan, a Republican serving as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve in Clinton’s Democratic administration; and Jeane Kirkpatrick, a Democrat serving as UN Ambassador in Reagan’s Republican administration. These are just but a few examples of opposing parties in different administrations throughout the history of the US. What the Americans have shown is a certain level of political maturity that transcends politics and party. What the Americans strive for is national success, and may the best man do the job.

It is an open secret that there are a number of numbskulls in Barrow’s administration, and this is not because I am picking on this administration, because we have also had some real ‘Einsteins’ in previous ones. The practice of assigning multi-million-dollar ministries to men who do not have the experience to run a panades shop is something that we as a nation must discontinue. As a people we are entrusting a huge part of our resources and finances to men who would not qualify for any reasonable position in any industry or company in Belize. By the power of the vote, we put them into office and most of the time the monies that they find at their disposal is too tempting to resist. I am not saying that highly qualified men will steal any less, but the chances of mismanagement and incompetence is greater when you just don’t know. Our biggest problem is that we have removed the professionals out of the picture and allowed a degree of micromanaging that is harmful, inefficient and counter-productive. Representatives are elected to legislate and lead, not to run ministries, and that has become one of our biggest mistakes. In order to grow and build a successful nation, we have to reach across the aisle and get the best man to do the job even if it involves someone from the opposition. No winning party has an exclusivity on knowledge and intelligence and definitely neither does one person, as most Belizean prime ministers tend to act. True leadership is knowing when to join for a common cause and when to put aside party politics for nation-building.

This nation would be a lot further if we demonstrated the maturity to build this nation together rather than literally splitting the country at the seams because of party politics. I would bestow the greatest level of respect and admiration for the leader that is able to remove this political divide and build a stronger nation that is inclusive of all Belizeans. The Americans demonstrated this hundreds of years ago because they long realized that it was a working receipt. They have placed patriotism and national interest beyond everything and today the place where they are has proven that it works. There is not a single political party in Belize that can do it all on its own and can save the nation. It will require a collective and broad-based approach if we are to see real change in this generation’s lifetime.

I wrote this article on April 8th of this year, shortly after the PUP had won the municipal election in Belize City. I purposely wrote it because I knew that this time would come at some point. Firing season. This week the PUP-led City Council decided to part ways with six of its senior staff. Losing a job is never easy because there is a human element involved, and it has the implication of affecting families. While I have never been fired from a job, I have had to sit at the opposite end of the firing table, and it is never easy. The firing of these six individuals, though tragic since it’s hard as it is to get employment in Belize, is sometimes a necessary evil in the changing of administrations and party politics. I applaud former Mayor Bradley for having the foresight of trying to establish tenure for council staff, but at the same time question why he would grant an employment contract so late in his administration. The job of current Mayor Wagner in this case was a difficult one when faced with this situation. Staffers, however, who are politically overt must be professional enough to resign when the party they support lose. This situation is tragic all over. On the one hand Mayor Wagner must have confidence in his staff, especially in a political climate where your opposition may sabotage your efforts, share confidential information with your political opponent or even worse, plan or scheme for you to fail. The cause of this problem is basic, politics. As long as we continue to play party politics as a key ingredient in our everyday life, this will never change. Professionals on the one hand must know when, how and where to demonstrate political colours and when there is a need to be the professional. Leaders on the other hand must also be willing to take a chance on professional talent. This should and must not be about simply making space for party loyalists. I have always said that to build a successful nation, we will need PUP, UDP, BPP and VIP because they are good, honest and competent professional people in all these organizations.

It’s all about the people!!!!

Neri O. Briceño

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