Some political critics would say that Karma eventually catches up on political parties which overstay their welcome. Others argue that when political parties refuse to modernise, are hollowed out through internal bickering and divisions, or the tools of party control in the nomination processes become eroded and weak, decay and disintegration are inevitable. After 12 years of triumphalism over Belize’s affairs, it speaks volumes about the true state of the Opposition Party, the UDP, that the best it could muster in the way of leaders were Patrick Faber, and the rapper and first-term legislator, Shyne Barrow, otherwise known as Moses Michael Levi Barrow.
When one recalls political visionaries like Lee Kuan Yew who transformed his city state, Singapore, from a Third World, ex-colonial outpost to a wealthy First World success, and one of the most corruption-free nations in the world, it’s clear that the parlous situation Belize has found itself in, for the last four decades, extends way beyond the ascension of former felons to the highest rungs of the political ladder in Belize. Indeed, what all Belizeans, both at home and abroad, desperately long for in their government are visionary, well-grounded and sophisticated technocrats, of high moral pedigree, who are authentic (not counterfeit) patriots. Ideally, their only ambition ought to be to make Belize the Singapore of Central America and the Caribbean. But then, this may be too much to expect!
The current proposal concerning the 11th Amendment, Section 58 of Belize’s Constitution, seeks to disqualify Belizeans from becoming House of Representatives members if they have been convicted and imprisoned for more than 12 months by a court of law within or outside of Belize. It also disqualifies individuals convicted of corruption, abuse of public office and election offenses. From its wording, the draft amended bill seems to be retroactive. Therefore, if this Amendment does disqualify Belizeans who went to jail for more than a year, it would certainly remove Moses “Shyne” Barrow from the House of Representatives, where he is at present one of the five UDP members. He would also cease to be the Leader of the Opposition and head of the UDP, positions he recently obtained because his predecessor, Patrick Faber, “misbehaved”.
There is nothing wrong with Belize’s quest under the current PUP government to achieve and maintain the highest standards of probity and excellence for those leading this nation. When a fish rots, it rots from the head. Belize, for too long, has been not only misgoverned, but also pimped and prostituted by a heartless cabal of “anything goes” politicians. In the US, which Belizeans love to imitate, there are certain jobs one cannot obtain if one has a criminal record. These include law enforcement, finance, health-care, teaching, child-care, retail jobs involving the sale of guns, pharmaceuticals and alcohol, as well as certain jobs in government. In South Africa, individuals who have been convicted of crimes beyond a certain level of severity are prohibited from running for office.
Arguing that there are many white-collar criminals in government who remain snug and comfortable in place, is neither here nor there. Until such individuals are tried, convicted and jailed, or alternatively their political party mechanisms, the society’s pressure groups, as well as public opprobrium, are strong enough to remove them, there is little anyone can do.
The well-known British politician, Lord Jeffrey Archer, a life peer and a former Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party, went to jail for perjury and perverting the course of justice. By this unfortunate act, his brilliant political career came to an abrupt and ignoble end. Recently, 79-year-old Jacob Zuma, a former president of South Africa — its fourth (2009-2018) — was jailed for 15 months by South Africa’s Constitutional Court for being in contempt of court. The court’s judges cared not one whit about the political repercussions of their decision, which later resulted in wide-scale violence and looting in South Africa, with over 1,200 arrests and 2,500 troops drafted to assist the police. The South African justice system demonstrated to the world a lesson for America and other mature democracies: that there are no sacred cows in politics.
The former president is also being investigated for corruption, embezzlement and fraud. But the greatest charge against Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, an ex-freedom fighter against apartheid, is that of perpetrating “state capture”, by enabling an Indian emigrant family from India’s State of Uttar Pradesh — the Gupta brothers — to virtually control the ruling ANC, through an intricate web of corruption, profiteering and hustling, which in addition included influencing cabinet nominations and other key government positions in South Africa.
In seeking only the “first eleven” or “best eleven”, which in football and cricket speak means that only the very best “players” among Belizeans will enter the hallowed chambers of Belize’s House of Representatives, the 11th Amendment must, however, speak only to specific crimes. No vagueness, or “one size fits all” nonsense must be permitted. For it is both unreasonable and unjust to equate someone who was convicted and imprisoned for criminal offences such as corruption, fraud, stealing, electoral malpractices, perjury, immigration malpractices, obstruction of justice, narcotics, gun running, attempted murder and murder, various violent crimes such as assault, grievous bodily harm, banditry, kidnapping, terrorism, human trafficking, rape, prostitution, pimping, child molesting, and sundry other sexual crimes, with a conviction such as sedition. Sedition is in itself a political act, that may not have been committed, depending on who is charging whom. Sedition can also become an imperative when dealing with a colonising, fascist and dictatorial government.
Politicians such as the redoubtable Philip Goldson, who in 1951 with Leigh Richardson (journalist and politician) was convicted and jailed for sedition in a British Honduran prison for one year, with hard labour, by the British colonial government, can never, ever be equated with Shyne Barrow. Shyne was convicted and imprisoned in American jails in New York in 2001 for assault and weapons possession. This was connected to his role in a nightclub shooting fracas in Manhattan, New York. There were other charges, such as attempted murder and intentional assault, which were later dropped. Barrow was sentenced to 10 years in prison, without being eligible for parole until 2007.
It is common knowledge that Shyne’s mother, the sister of Michael Finnegan, a former UDP minister, was said to have worked several jobs as a maid and housekeeper in New York in order to maintain her family. No doubt, this left a vulnerable Shyne, like all youths growing up in rough urban neighbourhoods, with limited parental supervision. There is also the claim that at age 15, he actually sustained gunshot wounds on his shoulder. However, comparing Shyne, a professional rapper, who spent the most formative years of his youth in rough-and-tumble New York, with limited formal education, and who was convicted of a crime for which he spent nine years in jail, with Goldson who was jailed for a year for sedition, is a nonstarter. Philip Goldson, we must remember, had earned his political spurs even before he went to jail. All this, and more, led to his eventually becoming a revered national hero, something just one of Belize’s prime ministers has achieved. Therefore, speaking about Shyne in the same breath as Philip Stanley Wilberforce Goldson is like attempting to juxtapose a molehill with a mountain.
It must be emphasised that although Goldson went to jail, he was never refused entry into Britain and deported on arrival, due to his conviction as a felon. This was, however, Shyne‘s fate in 2010. Goldson, on the other hand, was allowed to study law in Britain and was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn, London. Clearly, the British knew to distinguish one criminal conviction from another.
But what exactly was the sedition charge Goldson was convicted for in 1951? His white colonial accusers argued that it was based on an extract in the Belize Billboard newspaper which stated: “There are two roads to self-government (Independence): Evolution and Rebellion. We are now trying evolution”. The British colonialists said that the words meant that the intention of Goldson and Richardson was to try revolution if evolution failed. That was all!
It is also a well-documented fact that George Price, one of Belize’s national heroes, and its first Prime Minister, survived sedition charges brought by the British against him in 1957. Price at the time was a part of a delegation to London to discuss self-government, and he was accused of having meetings with Guatemala’s ambassador. Belizean school children (at least in Wesley Primary School, in Belize City, which I attended) were made to listen in 1957 on a large, cracking radio, excerpts of Price’s trial. Evan X Hyde, the writer, publisher, culture activist and former Senator, in 1981, also survived charges for seditious conspiracy and housebreaking.
While in prison, Goldson did not attempt to acquire money or engage in career promotion activities by making records and surreptitiously getting them out to recording labels outside his jail, thus subverting prison rules. Instead, this man who had no money to go to even a secondary school in colonial British Honduras, but who attended night school while working, and succeeded in passing the then prestigious Cambridge University Overseas Junior Certificate and Senior School Certificate examinations in 1939 and 1941 respectively, taught the other inmates in prison to read and write.
Goldson was a “Roots Belizean,” as Evan X would say, yet he was a thoroughly rounded individual. Philip Goldson had worked in his country’s colonial civil service, and later became a highly respected journalist, trade unionist and a British trained lawyer. At one point in time, he was also the General Secretary of Belize’s powerful General Workers Union. In addition, Goldson along with Leigh Richardson, George Price and John Smith founded the People’s United Party (PUP). He also helped to found the Honduran Independence Party, which along with the National Party became the National Independence Party (NIP), with Goldson becoming its National Secretary. The NIP in 1973 merged with the People’s Development Movement and the Liberal Party to form the United Democratic Party (UDP). Philip Goldson was also one of the architects of the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR). To his credit, he was a co-founder of Belize’s two major political parties, the PUP and the UDP.
Philip S.W. Goldson was no political Lilliputian, or the “hurry-come-up” beneficiary of familial or other well-heeled connections. He was a Creole from a working class background, who won his political spurs fair and square, and required no platinum-coated father, gold-plated uncle, or palace coup to win him a seat at the table of governance.
Part 2 of this piece will be published in the Friday, July 30 issue of the Amandala.
Thérèse Belisle-Nweke writes from Lagos, Nigeria.