When the Deputy Premier/Minister of Education, Hon. Patrick Faber, first announced early last week that his United Democratic Party (UDP) government had, almost casually, found a million dollars to reward those teachers, presumably members of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), who had reported to their schools instead of supporting their union’s eleven-day October strike last year, it took a while for that announcement to register with the Belizean people. After all, the Dean Barrow administration had just presented a budget for 2017/18, which went into effect on Saturday, April 1, which was basically an austerity budget calling on Belizeans to support revenue increases for the government so that the ruling politicians could meet all their Ashcroft bills, their superbond payments, their infrastructure commitments, and so on and so forth. The Governor General’s signature of assent to that painful budget was hardly dry on paper when Faber broke the crazy news – a million bucks of Easter basket for those teachers who had been loyal to the UDP, Mr. Barrow, and himself.
It is seldom when the conservative right wing, represented in Belize by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the progressive left wing, which is led by Belize’s trade unions, agree so readily on an issue as they did last week where criticism and rejection of Faber’s Easter basket were concerned. The million-dollar reward for non-striking teachers was condemned as union busting on the Government of Belize’s part, but, more than that, it was an act of huge arrogance on the UDP’s part. Cabinet had voted to use taxpayers’ moneys to put sugar in the bowls of UDP loyalists, in time for the Easter holidays/celebrations.
The role of Prime Minister/Minister of Finance, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, in that act of arrogance must be noted. Hon. Faber could not have made up the Easter basket on his own. Throughout the course of the strike and the various disputes between the UDP administration and the BNTU which had followed in succeeding weeks, Hon. Faber had been the public face of the flustered UDP as the BNTU won victory after hard-fought victory. But this is really Dean Barrow’s government, and the glitzy Mr. Barrow’s government had been embarrassed by the BNTU, led by its gritty President, Luke Palacio. Where optics were concerned, there could not have been a greater contrast than that between the flashy Prime Minister and the humble BNTU leader. But, the BNTU had won. David had stood up to Goliath.
In the aftermath of last week’s Easter basket announcement, Hon. Faber was again taking most of the flak, but the news was emerging at the same time that President Palacio could not run for another term, and the BNTU would be holding elections soon to choose a new leader. The Prime Minister and his Cabinet are, we think, using the aforementioned million dollars in order to prevent the election of Senator Elena Smith to the BNTU presidency. It has become a matter of political urgency for the UDP administration to break the power of the BNTU.
Those of us from older generations lived through times, in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was the People’s United Party (PUP) which had become so entrenched and arrogant in power that they behaved similarly to how the UDP is now behaving. Older generation of Belizeans finally saw a change of government in 1984. In national elections, the PUP had been undefeated from its foundation in 1950: in 1984, then, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition had finally come to power. There was an air of optimism in Belize; this was how parliamentary democracy was supposed to operate.
Today, in April of 2017, the UDP has become entrenched and arrogant. You cannot use taxpayers’ moneys to reward party loyalists. Consolidated fund moneys and UDP moneys are two different moneys. But, power corrupts. The UDP has exposed the fact, this Easter basket craziness being a prime exhibit, that they consider the people’s moneys to be their UDP moneys to spend as they wish. This is a bad state of affairs.
Public resentment has grown steadily against the incumbent UDP, but UDP leaders have not been feeling any hot breath on their backs from the Opposition PUP. The UDP has not lost an election since September of 2003, which is to say, the PUP has not won an election from September of 2003. Why is this so?
In his presentation on the 2017/2018 budget to the House of Representatives three weeks ago, the Rt. Hon. Said Musa, PUP area representative for the Fort George constituency, attempted to detail specifically where the various loan moneys his 1998-2003 and 2003-2008 administrations had borrowed, had been spent. Mr. Musa had been the PUP Prime Minister between 1998 and 2008, but the poster boy for his administrations’ financial operations had been Budget Minister, Hon. Ralph Fonseca, who was the Belize Rural Central area representative from June of 1993 until February of 2008.
Our opinion at this newspaper is that Ralph Fonseca has been and remains an albatross around the PUP’s neck. As much as he has attempted to stay in the background since 2008, Belize is a very small place. Ralph Fonseca, an egotistic, bombastic individual, has not been able to fly below the radar. The electoral evidence indicates that all the UDP has had to do is cry, “The bogeyman is coming, the bogeyman is coming,” and they continue to win election after election. The bogeyman is Ralph.
By early 2004, it had become evident to many Belizeans that Ralph was handling Belize’s public funds as though they were his private domain. The challenge by 7 PUP Cabinet Ministers in August of 2004 to Ralph’s absolute rule over Belize’s public finances, has been decried by Ralph loyalists as dividing the PUP and causing the party’s downfall. But, the fact of the matter is that Ralph Fonseca had been a divisive source of controversy in the PUP from May of 1994, when the May 15 Movement blamed him for the PUP’s general election defeat in June of 1993 and the PUP’s municipal elections disaster in early 1994.
Serious PUP analysts should go back even further than 1994. An unconstitutional situation had developed in the PUP government of the Rt. Hon. George Price sometime between 1989 and 1993. The unelected Ralph Fonseca, who had been brought into Cabinet through the Senate, had become de facto Minister of Finance. It is because that situation was unconstitutional that the PUP went to election fifteen months early in June of 1993, so that Ralph could win the new Belize Rural Central seat and become a constitutional Minister of Finance. It didn’t work out: apparently, the people of Belize smelled a rat.
Had Ralph defended that Belize Rural Central seat in February of 2008, instead of losing disgracefully to the UDP’s Michael Hutchinson, PUP politics, and Belizean politics overall, would probably have been different over the last nine years. As it is, Said Musa has remained extremely powerful in the PUP, and enough Belizeans believe he intends to bring back the unelected Ralph if the PUP wins, to make it difficult for that PUP victory to occur.
Because all the UDP has had to do is raise the alarm about the Ralph bogeyman, the UDP leaders have themselves become so entrenched and arrogant that they have begun to behave just like Ralph, which is to say: public finances, private domain. The Government of Belize cannot use public moneys to reward party loyalists. This is an abomination. And it is this type of abomination during the Ralph rule which led to the PUP’s downfall. Such an abomination will likewise lead to the UDP’s downfall. This will occur as soon as the PUP can properly analyze its own history since 1989.
Power to the people.