Editorial — 10 July 2019
A government going through the motions

The 1993 People’s United Party (PUP) government said it had done all it had promised in its 1989 manifesto, so it called general elections early, about 14 months before its allotted five years was up. The PUP could have called the general elections on September 4, 1994, instead of 30 June, 1993.

The 2012 United Democratic Party’s (UDP) government said it needed a new mandate to address the so-called Super Bond, so it called the general elections about 12 months early. The UDP could have called the general elections as late as February 8, 2013, instead of on March 7, 2012.

We don’t know the people who bought into those governments’ explanations for calling elections early.

The 1993 PUP felt the UDP was a dead party, after there was a split in the UDP over the Maritime Areas Act; they thought the moment was opportune for a snap election. In the PUP’s 1989-1993 government, the man at the helm of the finance ministry, de facto, was the unelected Ralph Fonseca, not the Prime Minister, George Price. In 1993 George Price was a relatively old man. He had fought the long struggle to gain independence, from 1950, and forty plus years later he didn’t have the vigor for the hard work of running the economy.

Price had a lot of hope, faith in Ralph Fonseca, a son of his former Financial Secretary and confidante, Rafael Fonseca. The elder Fonseca had died in a tragic road accident before independence, and Price must have felt that Fonseca the son had some of the magic he had seen in Fonseca the father.

Ralph Fonseca had contested the 1984 general election, in the newly formed Queen’s Square Division, losing badly to Dean Barrow (the present Prime Minister). He did not contest the 1989 general election, which the PUP was expected to lose.

In the PUP government of 1989-1993, the government-controlled Elections and Boundaries Department carved out a new division, Belize Rural Central, to bring to 29 the number of seats for area representatives. In 1989 Belize had come close to a constitutional crisis, with a 14-to-14 tie a distinct possibility when the last seats were declared.

In the snap election of 1993, this new division would be Ralph’s. He, Ralph, having become an elected representative of the people, would then control the finances of the country, de jure. Price would then no longer sign off on all the new ideas that would see us on the stock exchange—a bold player, albeit small, in the world economy.

It did not go as planned. Ralph won massively, but the PUP lost narrowly. The UDP and the breakaway faction came together when they learned of the snap election. The PUP was burdened by some projects which didn’t seem to have been worth the money we borrowed for them, and they also had to contend with a decision by the British to withdraw its troops, whose presence they claimed was no longer necessary after the Guatemalan president, Jorge Serrano Elías, recognized the independence of Belize.  Serrano Elías was president of Guatemala from January 14, 1991, to June 1, 1993.

The announced British withdrawal of their troops amounted to more than a security issue. A lot of support jobs were also being taken away from Belize’s labor force.

The UDP might have been thinking about the party’s experiences in 1989 and 1998, when it called for an early election in 2012. Late in the UDP’s 1984-89 government there was a rent in their ranks, when the then Prime Minister, Manuel Esquivel, moved to consolidate his faction’s hold on the party by taking away the chairmanship from the PDM (People’s Development Movement) faction, which was led by Dean Lindo. The party gradually lost momentum after the dust settled on that intraparty battle, and they ended up being edged out in an election that they might have won if they had called it early.

The 1993-98 UDP government was dead in the water well before its mandate was up. That government had retrenched hundreds of workers, frozen an increment for public servants, and there just wasn’t much going on with the economy. The party held on to power to the very last, and this negatively affected its performance in the subsequent election.

By March 2012, when the UDP called an early general election, they had already squandered the support they had gained after the PUP collapsed and handed them an easy victory in the 2008 general election. That UDP government spent too much of its energy whining that the PUP had  ballooned the nation’s external debt and this made it impossible for them to deliver on much needed infrastructure projects. It has to be remarked that in 2012, when the UDP was lamenting about the so-called Super Bond, tourism receipts were increasing, and our agro-industries and our oil industry were not underperforming.

We can question the legitimacy of the explanations given by the 1993 and 2012 governments, their reasons for calling early elections. If the present government was to call snap elections, they could also concoct a story, but if they needed legitimate reasons for doing so, we could give them three. They could do so based on the facts that they have not fulfilled two critical promises in their 2015 manifesto, and show no intentions of doing so, and the energy is gone from their sails. The UDP has a full 18 months more on their mandate, but as we look at it now, from the perspective of those of us who don’t carry UDP party cards, there really isn’t any point in their hanging on.

It is true that the UDP continues working on delivering on some of its promises in its 2015 manifesto, “The Best is yet to Come”, but those are mostly the mundane things that any government would do, and projects, like the Caracol Road, which it will not see through during this term.

The 2015 UDP promised to “enact bills to enforce transparency and accountability in Public Financial Management”, and to “construct a state-of-art Forensic Lab”, for the purpose of improving the delivery of justice.  A state-of-art forensic lab would send a strong message to those who commit violent crimes with seeming impunity, that they would no longer be escaping the law.

What the UDP hasn’t done it will not do now. If the UDP had acted on its promise of transparency and accountability, it, and we, would not have been embarrassed into going to the United Nations for UNCAC (United Nations Convention against Corruption), to beg them to do for us what we absolutely should have done for ourselves.

The Prime Minister and the UDP should really be ashamed. Guatemala went to the UN for the CICIG after they had violently overthrown an elected government, and a disastrous, genocidal civil war followed. They, the UDP, inherited the foundations of the Peaceful, Constructive Belizean Revolution, which had gone off track with some privatization of essential publicly owned utilities.

We were supposed to be, we sold ourselves as, the Jewel, a tranquil haven. Our leaders must be uncomfortable. If they are not, they must be made to feel so.

The Prime Minister had said, after it was announced that his party had won a third consecutive term, in 2015, that the party would see out its mandate to the full five years. We will not dwell on the Prime Minister’s statement. It was unfortunate.

The present UDP government is just marking time until the next general election. The UDP would have every right to fritter time, if the time they were sitting on, the time they were wasting, wasn’t ours. There isn’t any profit here for the people. They have lost confidence in this government’s capacity and will to deliver roots Belizeans from the clutches of poverty and crime.

The next party in power must deliver on crime-fighting tools, and transparent and accountable government. The UDP could put it in their manifesto again. We might believe them this time. The PUP has to put it in their manifesto. We could believe them too. Hope is almost dead in Belize, but we haven’t quite given up. We have to worry, though, about whether those eighteen months of sitting around (while a stale government goes through the motions) could sap the last ounce of energy in our souls.

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Deshawn Swasey

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