It is possible that the resignation of Doug Singh from the posts of Chairman of the Belize Social Security Board (SSB) and Chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, and as a Director of Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL), is no great loss to the people of Belize. He must have been considered a valuable asset by the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), since he was called on/trusted to hold such important positions, in normal times. We are not living in normal times.
The economy of Belize has collapsed, and it is not likely that when we emerge from these dark days our world will look the same as it did pre COVID-19. In April 2020 the worth of every technocrat in the country should be up for scrutiny. We are living in an age when new thinking is needed, to get us through this period, and to find the formula that will make us prosper.
Indeed, many Belizeans thought new thinking was necessary many years before we entered the age of the COVID-19 pandemic. A full fifty percent of Belizeans were living on the edge before the pandemic. If the numbers churned out by the authorities did not reflect that in normal times, the urgent claims for assistance, over 60,000, immediately after the relief programs were announced, did. Most Belizeans were living on the edge of economic despair for a long time, and COVID-19 pushed us over.
Doug Singh and his brother, Mike, are as powerful in the ruling UDP as any of the party’s area representatives, and that is why Doug’s fall is so spectacular. Mr. Doug Singh might have wanted out. A career financier, he might have looked at the situation and decided he was inadequate in a climate such as the one we are living in at this time. Who knows?
Doug Singh is UDP royalty. In the second UDP government, 1993 to 1998, he came home from the USA, or was brought home, and was handed the plum job at the head of the Development Finance Corporation. Not too long after the UDP lost at the polls in 1998 he became the party’s chairman. In 2003 he ran in the general elections for the UDP in the Freetown Division, and lost to Hon. Francis Fonseca.
Since the UDP came to power in 2008, he and Mike have filled important positions in the government. Doug Singh was made a senator, and his role in the Senate included being Leader of Government Business. He was appointed to chair the Elections and Boundaries Commission, and he was made the chairman of the SSB. In 2014 the Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL), a private company which had received bailout loans from the SSB, unanimously chose Doug Singh, the chairman of SSB, as their chairman.
In 2010 he was made Minister of Police and Public Safety. Not shy about the thoughts that run through his head, when he took over that portfolio he criticized the physical state of the Police Department and some police officers.
He said that the Queen Street Police Station looked “like a garbage pile”, and, he said, “I look at senior police officers with their guts hanging out and I say that literally, out of shape, overweight, they inspire nobody. I think that’s a problem in the BDF too; they inspire no one.” (quotes from files of 7News)
Last week, in an interview with Belize Breaking News’ Mr. Aaron Humes, Singh expressed extreme frustration with persons who were making demands that relief promised by the government (funds being processed through the SSB) be speeded up. The career financier let loose about the ingratitude of such persons.
“…his characterization of some of the persons who had applied for the $300 monthly assistance from GOB, revealed a definite bias against an entire class of poor Belizeans, for whom Singh showed no sympathy or empathy,” senior journalist at the Amandala, Rowland A. Parks, wrote. In respect to the substance of what Singh said in the interview, the Amandala said he made it quite clear “that after the 3-month program of government assistance is over, even those Belizeans who legitimately lost their employment due to the COVID-19 pandemic will be on their own.”
Much has been said about the elitist, callous way Singh spoke in the interview, but we cannot allow ourselves to be so distracted by how he feels about persons who applied for relief that we lose focus of the substance of his interview. Mr. Singh, the financier, said that we are in an unsustainable position.
A few days after his top technocrat stepped off the stage, Prime Minister Barrow taped a message to the nation in which he said that our “tax base has utterly eroded and we are terribly short of money”, but government must operate, and though it “seems an impossible task…we will prove equal to the job.”
We have no doubt that the people of Belize are equal to the job. What we aren’t sure of is our leaders. They, with their narrow, petty “party before country” philosophy have been stymying our progress for decades.
Making decisions that don’t protect narrow party interests has been painful, like pulling wisdom teeth, for our leaders; however, in this crisis we have seen some progress. They deserve praise for their efforts to reduce the long lines, and make the pantry program more accessible for all, but we believe they can do better. In hurricane time we understand why we all have to make our way to some depot to seek our rations. The streets aren’t blocked. It is so easy for the rations to be taken to people’s homes.
The PM said we are broke, but promised to fight on. It was heartwarming to hear him say the words, “country over party.” Mr. Singh said funds will run out in three months. It is good that he resigned. His lack of empathy disqualifies him from a leadership role going forward.
Mr. Patrick Rogers, the leader of the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), is one leader who is stepping to the fore. He said that merchants shouldn’t profit off relief funds, that the government should commandeer the country’s food supply and set up food banks in all districts.
Mr. Rogers is right when he says merchants shouldn’t be profiting off relief funds in this pandemic. Our merchants deserve profits off their labor, but they should get theirs from those of us who are still employed. Those of us who get the small stipend from the government should be able to buy from food banks, at no mark up. If our country comes before the party in power, that is an easy decision to make.