The bamboozled masses of the Belizean people have been relatively silent, though interested, observers in the long-standing negotiations between Government and the Joint Unions, which have been centered around government’s proposed, and already legislated, though not yet implemented, 10% salary cut and 3-year wage freeze for public officers — an action the financial experts have declared as the minimum that needs to be done to give government room to maneuver and try to restructure the gigantic Super Debt Bomb that our country now faces. With the rest of the country’s labor force already taking a licking, many out of work for a year since Covid-19 arrived on our shores, union members helped to justify their resistance against the 10% cut by raising a cry for good governance measures, citing rampant corruption in government as the major cause of our financial crisis. Making that sacrifice now, they argued, will be meaningless if we don’t collar the culprit of corruption; and, with a history of failure from both the PUP and UDP in this area, they proposed we should hang our best hopes for stomping out corruption on the implementation of UNCAC (The United Nations Convention against Corruption). However, in P.M. Briceño’s May 12 National Address summarizing his government’s “Good Governance Reform” plan, which was featured on this week’s Belize Times headline and elaborated on two full pages of the paper (pages 7 & 8), there was no mention of UNCAC. Everything is to be “homegrown,” both our economic remedies and our good governance reform measures.
With the government’s last, best offer on the table, union members will decide if they are ready to “bite the bullet” and accept the inevitable 10% cut, along with the listed measures in government’s Good Governance Reform plan to stomp out corruption. The economic picture has been painted quite convincingly, so it will be hard for the unions not to choose the 10% sacrifice, rather than facing the IMF bogeyman, which could be worse. But will they also go along with the homegrown good governance measures? Will they have a choice?
Corruption has been a worldwide problem, and Belize is no exception. But it is an accepted fact that small countries often suffer the worst from corruption, as their resources and assets are exploited by large foreign entities, while enriching a few locals at the expense of the masses.
It is not that we don’t have laws. We have a Constitution and a whole body of laws that should protect us against corruption. But laws sometimes have loopholes, and smart businessmen with big bank accounts can hire top lawyers to find those loopholes, and even find ways to reward government officials or politicians who “look the other way” or somehow facilitate their predatory adventures in our struggling little economy. So, with all our laws, and all our natural resources, wonderful climate and beautiful people, Belize is now at rock bottom – bruk. And the consensus of those who should know, our public officers, is that the major cause is corruption. So, either our laws need fixing, closing loopholes, or those charged with implementing those laws need to start doing their jobs; or both. In fact, fixing our laws, closing those loopholes, may be the best incentive to make those inclined to being corrupt, to start doing their jobs righteously.
So, now: the UDP leader had a two-edged machete to chop off the head of corruption. And see where we are now? Can we fault the unions for being a bit hesitant when the PUP leader now promises a homegrown remedy to provide “good governance”?
Indeed, many of the items P.M. Briceño listed in his Good Governance Reform plan sound really encouraging, exciting even. There is the “Protected Disclosures/Whistleblowers Protection Bill,” the “Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth Bill,” the “Campaign Finance Reform Bill,” the “Audit of Petro Caribe Funds,” and the “Rationalization of Public Service.” Strangely, the latter makes no mention of a return to Permanent Secretaries. And there is no mention of UNCAC (United Nations Convention against Corruption). Why not?
The UNCAC is no magic potion that will cure all our governance problems. But it is a structured approach designed by the United Nations to assist governments to deal with this global problem. And it is in the drafting of those laws to plug loopholes that they offer their most assistance. Do we really want to stop corruption? We’ve heard the difficulty our Attorney General’s office has because of a shortage of legal drafters. Well, that is exactly the area where UNCAC provides access to this kind of help.
Under pressure from the BNTU back in 2016, the former UDP government did make a few steps toward implementing UNCAC. But they stopped short.
We googled UNCAC and got a good idea of how serious they are:
“The United Nations Convention against Corruption is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument… The vast majority of United Nations Member States are parties to the Convention.” It was “Adopted by the UN General Assembly: 31 October 2003… Entry into force: 14 December 2005… Signatories: 140… Parties: 187 (as of 6 February 2020).”
At a member’s request, they select expert representatives from other countries to do a review and assessment of that country’s situation: “The documents produced by the Implementation Review Mechanism, including all executive summaries of country review reports, as well as national legal texts, and information about relevant authorities can be accessed from the Country Profiles Database.”
It’s all there. And they did a review on Belize’s laws. Belize’s (no Signature Date) “Accession date: 12 December 2016.” And in our “Review cycle: 1 (Chapter III and IV),” our reviewing countries were Haiti and Tuvalu. For our “Review cycle: 2 (Chapter II and V),” our reviewing countries were Uruguay and the Marshall Islands.
After reviewing Belize’s laws and comparing them with the relevant Chapters above, the foreign experts made their observations and recommendations in a 120-page report, in which they said they believed we had fallen short:
One example is listed in Chapter III, Criminalization and Law Enforcement: “Article 16. Bribery of foreign public officials and officials of public international organizations. Paragraph 1 of article 16: 1. Each State Party shall adopt such legislative and other measures as may be necessary to establish as a criminal offence, when committed intentionally, the promise, offering or giving to a foreign public official or an official of a public international organization, directly or indirectly, of an undue advantage, for the official himself or herself or another person or entity, in order that the official act or refrain from acting in the exercise of his or her official duties, in order to obtain or retain business or other undue advantage in relation to the conduct of international business.”
“(a) Observations on the implementation of the article: The reviewing experts concluded that Belize has not taken the necessary measures to implement paragraph 1 of article 16 of the Convention.”
“(b) Challenges and recommendations: It was recommended that Belize criminalize active bribery of foreign public officials and officials of public international organizations in accordance with the Convention.”
This is just a snippet, the tip of the iceberg. Will the unions trust our leaders to do a good “homegrown” job of “Good Governance”?