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Monday, December 6, 2021
Home Editorial Honeymoon over in “Land of the gods”

Honeymoon over in “Land of the gods”

It is standard fare in the Belize election cycle for citizens to hear contesting parties glorifying the wonderful democracy that we have, and pointing to the specific flaws in our Constitution that they are fully committed to correct once they are elected. It is a game that politicians play with the people over and over again; and it doesn’t seem as if there is any change in sight. For, once the elections are over, and the winning party gets fully settled in office, it seems that the lofty promises of good governance and consultation with the people in a vibrant and interactive, participatory democracy are soon placed on the back burner, as more pressing issues like jobs and crime fighting and growing the economy and, of course, the now ever demanding fight against Covid-19, take priority over anything to do with consultation and accountability and transparency. Those buzz words are for campaign excitement and entertainment, and after a little breeze blows, it is back to business as usual. Perhaps it is time that the Belizean people come to grips with reality, and acknowledge the fact that, once politicians get into the seat of power, like with “bad pikni,” the citizens have to keep them under tight surveillance and pressure, to ensure that they are “walking the straight and narrow,” and remembering to do the things they were committed to before winning the elections.

When was the last time our new leaders spoke to the Belizean people about legislation to stamp out corruption? Wasn’t corruption the hottest issue in the last general election, along with its close partner, good governance? Did not teachers strike for eleven days to get then P.M. Barrow of the UDP to agree to sign on to UNCAC? And wasn’t the implementation of UNCAC listed as a priority for any new PUP government?

But when election fever took over the nation, it was all about the PUP’s Tru Blu Plan, with its “everybody fi win” whetting the voters’ appetites with commitments to “grow the economy, improve health care, free access to education, land to first time owners,” etc. etc.
All well and fine. And it could be argued, the PUP never even promised to finalize the Blue Bonds negotiations with TNC and put an end to the dreaded Superbond; but they did it nevertheless. And congratulations are in order!

Belizeans are grateful and exceedingly happy with our new government’s success in that critical endeavor. And they have made good efforts in other areas as well, not always with the same success. Crime and healthcare, Covid-19 in particular, remain two very vexing issues, as the pandemic-induced economic slump has only served to worsen poverty and associated crimes. It’s a challenge for any government, and Belizeans understand that, and are not expecting miracles.

But, as time goes by, the realization must slowly dawn on a people too often caught up with the distraction of political infighting between the party in government and the opposition, that in actual fact, what they had wanted most from the new government was for them to address the monster of corruption and utilize the vehicle of UNCAC to achieve “good governance”. The rest should fall into place, because we are a talented people.

But are citizens to be satisfied, having swept one corrupt set out of power, to just lay back and allow the new saviors to go their merry way? As filled with energy and zeal as the new PUP government has been in its first year in office, as night follows day, if left unbridled as they now seem to be, there may soon be another runaway horse for the Belizean people to try and rein in again. The signs are already showing; and with all their talent and potential, it is still the duty of patriotic citizens to begin to hold their leaders accountable.

Here are a few signs of slippage, or areas of concern that citizens should not overlook in keeping this new administration in check.

For starters, anybody remembers the bold, clear promise by the then Opposition PUP in February of 2020 to, once elected, “demand Senator Aldo Salazar to immediately release the findings of the Senate Select Committee on the hustle at the Department of Immigration…”?

Recall the October 2020 injunction effort by the Belize Peace Movement (BPM) to get the Supreme Court to postpone the last general elections until a proper redistricting exercise could be done? Acting Chief Justice, Michelle Arana presided over that case, and she allowed the elections to proceed, but she did not throw out the case, which is still alive. Recall also the brouhaha following the elections when the then head of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, Estevan Perera, refused to relinquish his post, to which he had been appointed four months before the elections by the UDP government; and the persistence of the new PUP government to remove him? Well, the BPM is now back with its case in court, where the Acting C.J. had them present their draft proposals to the chair of the Commission for a response; but the response by the PUP- appointed successor to Mr. Perrera has been a rejection of the BPM’s “draft Consent Order”. It would therefore appear that this PUP administration is happy with the elections status quo. And it leads some enquiring minds to wonder if the prolonged reluctance to confirm the post of Chief Justice has anything to do with this case. Moreover, if we are serious about good governance, how can we not be in favor of abiding by our Constitution where redistricting is concerned?

Then there is the matter of the Central Bank governor. At a time when Belize needed an image uplift in international banking circles, it seemed like a great catch when the new PUP government managed to secure retired IMF consultant, Belizean Gustavo Manuel Vasquez as our new Central Bank governor on April 1 of 2020. But in less than five months he was gone; and the government, with our taxpayer dollars, had to negotiate a payoff for his 4-year contract in the hundreds of thousands. Very strange; and little explanation has been given by P.M. and Minister of Finance, Hon. John Briceno.

Incidentally, last week’s Reporter newspaper featured full-page articles by two of their regular columnists, one a past UDP minister, and one a current PUP junior minister; and both discussed the drug trafficking business and its impacts on Belize. Interestingly, former UDP Foreign Minister Sedi Elrington wrote on page 14: “In difficult economic times politicians welcome the infusion of drug money into the economy.” He went on to say, “It is the role of the governor of the Central Bank to ensure that the operations of our banking system are clean, transparent, free from any taint of corruption or money laundering. A governor of our Central Bank who takes his job too seriously often comes into conflict with finance ministers who don’t feel the need to be as fastidious about the monies that enter into the banking and commercial sectors. As a consequence, principled governors rarely last long in their jobs.”

And with regard to the wonderful deal with TNC that saved us half a billion dollars, why is it not okay for the Belizean people to know who were our hired negotiators and what they were paid for their services? There is an interesting parallel there with the UDP’s handling of the BTL sale negotiations; and also with certain contracts by the said BTL to relatives of both previous and current PM’s.

One thing is for sure; our elected leaders all want to stay in power for a long time. Meanwhile, it is our duty as citizens to keep our eyes wide open, and “protect ourselves at all times” from this tendency by our elected leaders to become like little gods. Amandala! Au bun! Amuru nu!

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