Kindly see below letter for this week’s edition in response to your Editorial asking for submissions. I kindly request that my name be withheld.
Thanks in advance
I read with much interest your call for suggestions as to what we might be able to do as a nation to extricate ourselves from this socio-economic mess that we have weaved for ourselves over the past centuries.
What is clear now, and perhaps for some time now, is that the parliamentary democratic system we inherited from Great Britain has failed us. It is not a model that will work in Belize, and it should be abandoned. The real question is, what should it be replaced with?
I must confess that I did spend some time explaining what is wrong with our “democracy,” but I realized that this is a waste of time. First of all, I will be telling you something you already know. Then of course, there are many things wrong with our system, and although some are more outrageous and blatant than others, there is in fact a litany of wrongs we could discuss. But not only do you know these better than most of us, you are not asking this of us. So I will go into what I think the solution can look like.
So what’s the solution?
In suggesting a solution, I will refrain from parroting any other system. Although what I am about to suggest looks a lot like the republican system, there is ample corruption and failure in that system to ward off any desire to suggest that it could be a panacea for Belize. I am not suggesting a republican system. What we design for ourselves, has to work for Belize, period.
We need a system where the three pillars of government are completely independent, and where the executive system is unique and designed to prevent runaway executive power. Runaway executive power, combined with ego, is burying this country.
We need a House of Representatives that makes laws, and oversees the executive to make sure they adhere to those laws. That is all they do. There should be no Senate. A Senate is the way we have tried to mimic the House of Lords. Belize does not need to do this. The Belizeanization of the House of Lords is shameful, illegitimate, useless and expensive. Enough said about this sad legislative experiment.
Committees in the House of Representatives should be set up to demand and make public any information they require from the executive. For example, there should be a foreign affairs committee that oversees the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That oversight should be confined to bringing laws to the House that make the Ministry better and more accountable. Old laws no longer applicable should be removed.
Parliament can make laws that pertain to parliament itself, but any law that affects parliament that could address conflicts of interest or corruption in parliament, must be sanctioned by the Head of State (we’ll talk about this later) before the law comes into place.
As in most systems of democratic representations, parliament should pass a law accepting the budget, once presented by the executive. The budget, however, should be informed by certain laws that outline the need for certain funds to be made available to the judiciary and the office of the Head of State. That prevents undue influence of the executive and the legislative over the judiciary and the office of the Head of State.
The judiciary system
The judiciary system must be completely independent. The judges of the Supreme Court can only be appointed by the Head of State for a period not less than 20 years. They are not to be appointed by the head of government or the executive in any way. The Supreme Court judges appoint lower court judges independently. The judiciary too submits a budget to the Head of State and not to the executive. This also prevents undue influence.
The judiciary will send to the executive a call for a budget that is to be made public. Although ultimately the legislative branch will pass a law accepting or changing the budget, the executive cannot make too many changes to what the judicial system is asking for and thereby have undue influence.
The executive branch of government will have two manifestations. The first will be the head of government and Cabinet. He or she will be elected directly by the people, and not by a political party. Once elected, he or she will appoint a Cabinet of capable Ministers; these may not be from parliament. They will run the country and control the national purse.
The second part of the executive will be the Head of State. The Governor General as a representative of the Queen, is a vestige of colonialism, disrespectful of our forefathers brutalized in the colonial era, and bad for national self-esteem. That system needs to move on. Instead, I propose an elected Head of State that cannot come from any political party. If he or she was a part of any major national party, that membership must be renounced before he/she runs for this office. There must be clear formal educational and experiential minimums for this post.
Not allowing the political parties into the office of the Head of State is imperative, as they have hijacked the state for years, and have made the infrastructure of the state subservient to the party. This must be ended; the only way to do this is to prevent the parties from getting their hands on this office. There are smart, well-qualified, well-meaning, honest Belizeans who want to have nothing to do with the political parties, and would be willing to serve. The parties and the politicians would oppose this vehemently. Anyone who served as the head of government cannot serve as the Head of State and vice versa.
He/she will be elected for a one term only of ten years. That office will be the guardian of the constitution, meaning that the Head of State can veto the process of a constitutional change. This prevents parliamentary supremacy, yet allows parliament to change the constitution when the change is merited
He will appoint and oversee the office of the Auditor General. The office of the Auditor General will audit all three branches of government and report and be subject to the Head of State, not the head of government.
The Head of State will have, by design a small budget only, a salary and benefits set in law; this prevents any undue influence over the office. Benefits of being a Head of State will extend beyond tenure in the office and up to death. This discourages the Head of State acting in his/her self-interest for future gain.
The Head of State will not be in charge of the Attorney General; this will fall under the executive. The exception is in cases where the Auditor General finds irrefutable corruption, to be judged by the Head of State only. Upon this finding, the Head of State selects a special prosecutor, and can bring charges against a member of parliament, judiciary, or the executive, or any other member of the government at any level. In this case he or she acts as the supreme guardian against corruption. When this happens, the Head of State can use the resources of the office of the Attorney General, who may not lead the special investigation but must make resources available to the special investigator.
The Head of State is a guardian of the state. He will wield no major power other than this; he/she controls no money other than the small budget for his office; he/she does not control the government purses in any way; he/she only oversees a corrupt free state. In choosing to walk away from the British monarch as our head of state, Belize will not be unique. We need a Head of State that comes from the people, not a foreigner, or from a party or any other group that has a constituency. When that office has a pre-conditioned constituency, the office no longer acts for the benefit of all people.
Mr. Editor, I believe that this framework will separate the three functions of the state, remove the British monarch as the Head of State, and create a head of state removed from every day trappings of executive power. Since he/she cannot be re-elected, there is no need to pander to short-term thinking, and can act in the interest of the long term, which is more akin to the life of the state over time.
I believe both you and I know that if we employ such a system (and only a lack of national self-esteem can prevent us) where checks and balances at the highest level are immune to the putrification of the political parties, our country, a beautiful, resource-rich land, can come to prosperity for the benefit of our people.
A proud Belizean