With less than a week to go before the general election, on Wednesday, November 11, the 88 candidates, which include five independents and representatives of four political parties, are in high gear as they try to get their message out to the voters who will decide who forms the 9th government in Belize since we got our independence back in 1981.
On Tuesday we took a peek at the independents and the two “third parties”, the Belize People’s Front and the Belize Progressive Party. For the record, no independent or third party candidate has ever sat in our House of Representatives, and it is expected that the party which forms the 9th government after independence will be one of the two that have previously held the reins in Belize —the United Democratic Party (UDP), which has won five times, or the People’s United Party (PUP), which has won three times.
Both of these two parties that have shared control of government since independence have good manifestos filled with ideas to make our lives better; however, there is one critical area where their energies/interests are on very different levels.
The PUP obviously put a lot of work into preparing their 2020-2025 “Plan Belize” manifesto. They’ve been out of government for some time now, so they had a lot of time to work on it. If the PUP wins and lives up to the plans they propose for governance reform, or if the people are able to press them to be true to their words, our democracy will take a leap forward that would make us the envy of many in the world.
Much of the UDP’s “Because Your Future Matters” 2020-2025 manifesto is backward-looking, and since they are the incumbents, it is natural that they tout their achievements; however, if they are going to base much of their campaign on what they did, they can’t be allowed to cherry pick from their past. They must also own up to their failures, for example their corruption, cronyism, and nepotism; and their lack of transparency and accountability.
The forward-looking section of the UDP’s manifesto covers 19 critical areas of development; it is a good manifesto, except for the fact that it doesn’t sufficiently address the party’s biggest failing: pushing aside the checks and balances in the system during its time in office. Their response to the cries of the people for improvement in our governance is a scanty 321-word document with 8 bullet points.
Winning three consecutive general elections must have deafened the UDP to the cries of the people that they were tired of being bystanders in our democracy, tired of watching political leaders raid and abuse the assets of the country.
If we zero in on what the UDP describes as the road toward the creation of a modern, open and accountable government, we see that they believe that completing the automation of all government processes, that putting all services and payment processes online will “strengthen the environment to detect and reduce the incidence of corruption”; however, full e-government will have no impact on bloated contracts, and only a little impact on dishonest dealings of government ministers. E-government will, however, have significant impact on government employees who are inclined to be larcenous.
The UDP says that it will modernize and restructure the Public Service, and there will be proper investigation of allegations of wrongdoing and enforcement to ensure that violators are held accountable at all levels. The target here, again, is not the ministers of government. Under a new UDP administration, the target will be government employees who have developed a habit of mishandling public property.
Thankfully, the government ministers don’t get off scot-free, for the UDP also plans to introduce legislation to strengthen the Integrity Commission so that it is able to address public allegations of wrongdoing, and punish those who are found guilty of it. The UDP also promises to introduce campaign finance reform legislation, and to “strengthen the recall mechanism for elected officials by reducing the threshold required to trigger a recall.”
The UDP’s manifesto does not address many of the demands the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) made when they marched in the streets of Belize City back in February this year. There was no mention of moving toward the second phase of UNCAC, no mention of the tabling of the Senate report on passport fraud at the Immigration Department, no mention of restructuring the Public Accounts Committee, no mention of sanctions or penalties for individuals who contravened the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act (No. 12 of 2005).
In contrast to the UDP’s scanty document on governance and reducing corruption, the PUP’s manifesto is comprehensive, addressing the areas where previous governments have failed the people.
The PUP promises to empower the Senate so that body “will have the authority to conduct inquiries into any and all matters with a view to advancing the cause of nation-building.”
The PUP promises to: strengthen the Integrity Commission so that it has the power to monitor government ministers and all elected officials in public life to ensure their “honorable” exercise of duties and responsibilities; implement a government procurement process that puts all information on the Internet, thereby making it accessible to the public for their participation in the bidding and supply process of the Government; introduce legislation to regulate campaign financing; implement a fixed date for general elections; implement a transparent redistricting exercise, free from any appearance of political manipulation; and introduce an independent Elections & Boundaries Commission that is free from political interference.
The PUP also promises to: give judges and magistrates security of tenure so that the Judiciary is more independent of the Legislature; include the social partners in the Senate in a reconstituted Public Accounts Committee; immediately sign, ratify and fully adhere to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC); restore the autonomy of the Public Service; and revert to having Permanent Secretaries as the accounting officers of the specific ministry/ministries.
The ball is in the people’s court now, on November 11, but if we start with what’s in their manifestos, we can see that the PUP’s “Plan Belize” shows a lot of focus by the PUP on improving governance and reducing corrupt acts by government ministers and other elected public officials, while the UDP’s “Because Your Future Matters” is targeting the small fry.