“The ruling party is bloated with greed, vanity and arrogance” – this was the damning verdict of AMANDALA’S editorial of 17th February, 2018. As Belize’s most widely read and influential newspaper, both at home and in the Belizean Diaspora, this is a serious indictment, and those who fail to understand and act on it, do so at their peril. It well may be acted upon on 7th March, 2018 when Belize goes to the polls in the national municipal elections.
The People’s United Party (PUP), Belize’s Opposition Party, has been sequestered in the political wilderness long enough to have learnt its lessons and re-invent itself, or, it will not be “Uhuru” just yet. Perhaps one of the most significant of all lessons is that all power is temporary, except God’s, and as the Igbo saying goes: “Even a hundred years must end one day”. Hence, there is nothing immutable about the UDP’s stranglehold on our poor, marginalized, and traumatised people, since no condition is permanent. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Jacob Zuma, “the Teflon President” of South Africa, two African juggernauts with nine lives like the proverbial cat, can attest to this.
The PUP will definitely regain power – if not now, then “tomorrow”. This is true as night follows day. Britain’s Labour Party spent 18 agonising years and great internal turmoil in the political cold under a range of leaders from Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and John Smith to Tony Blair. However, it was a “New Labour” political philosophy and excellent professional political marketing that produced for Labour a landslide election win in 1997.
My advice to the PUP as it “remembers Zion” is that it must not only learn from its errors and those of the UDP, but it must get ready to lead Belize with WISDOM, PATRIOTISM, HONESTY and HUMILITY. It has to be, above all, people centred. And, this must be amply demonstrated by first refusing to be in thrall to the parasitic, “buy and sell” foreign and local trading concerns, and the so-called commercial farming communities who, in effect, add little value to our economy. They manufacture nothing, import everything, employ only people from their own closed-off community, and are not in any way in the vanguard of industrial innovation and development. These semi-corporate and petty bourgeoisie political party donors are rather like maggots who thrive and live off a rotten host.
Secondly, a new and revitalised PUP must come to the table with fresh and pragmatic ideas on how to deal with Guatemala prudently, patriotically and decisively, as is not the case now with this UDP government. Our entire foreign policy direction and structure must be overhauled and re-engineered towards new alliances and a pro-active foreign policy, instead of the current no-show one. Indeed, the diplomatic neophytes, foreign business elements and other opportunistic hustlers that claim they represent Belize abroad must be shown the door. They are there largely to serve the interests of their sponsors; not the people and interests of Belize.
And, thirdly, the Opposition party must have in the waiting a comprehensive ten-year development plan for the entire country, cutting across every sector of development and need, mobilising all Belizeans, irrespective of where they reside.
Fourthly, it has to remove the conditions that gave rise to the poverty, ignorance, disillusion, anomie and anarchy that exist among the youths of Belize, particularly those living in Belize City’s violent Southside neighbourhoods. The UDP has woefully failed to comprehend and solve this huge problem, despite the almost slavish electoral support it receives from this group.
And, fifthly a “New PUP” government must urgently set up an independent, impartial agency to comprehensively review all government land allocations and sales made since 1981, in order to remove the ticking time bomb that is indeed a Trojan Horse within our midst. A corollary to this is to review and change our resident and citizenship laws, as well as sternly address the issue of numerous Belizean citizenships that were either corruptly or irregularly obtained via previous PUP and UDP governments; and cancel them.
But nations can only be as strong as their constitutions, laws, institutions, leaders, and the people who hold them to account. Belize desperately lacks fearless, patriotic and selfless political leaders, whose love for our beautiful country shines through all their actions, not words. “A man of words and not of deeds is like a garden full of weeds”. Long, long ago at Wesley Primary School, Belize City, I was taught this Percy B. Green poem, which was initially a nursery rhyme. Our leaders must desist from making themselves more powerful than our nation’s institutions and above its laws. It is a recipe for disaster, and their certain entry into posterity’s Gallery of Rogues and Fools.
It is obvious to any student of Behavioural Politics that Belize does not have a parliamentary democracy. What we have is NOT the Westminster model of the U.K., or that of India’s, South Africa’s or Australia’s – all Commonwealth countries. Most European nations are parliamentary democracies, but the absolutism of prime ministerialship which exists in our small nation is alien to Europe.
No constitution is written in stone and the laws of Belize are not those of the Medes and Persians. Even stubborn America will definitely come to its senses one day as Australia (equally a frontier society) did in 1996, and repeal the anachronistic Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. This amendment refers to a time when frontier America had no police force, army, marine corps, navy, air force and coast guards. And, it gave “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, (which) shall not be infringed.” Undoubtedly, a repeal will occur after children belonging to the topmost tier of the mighty NRA are shot dead at school. It will also happen when a critical mass of selfless lawmakers reject outright millions of dollars in political donations from the NRA, and refuse to be victimised and destroyed politically by this powerful pressure group. It may then be repealed too when the organisation is dubbed “a terrorist” group.
To the PUP – I say that Belize needs a new Constitution which will not hold the Cabinet hostage to a conceited, irresponsible and inept Prime Minister. Can our legislature hold the executive to account? Where is the demarcation and independence? Neither should our judiciary be compromised by any arm or functionary of government. All three arms of government need to be totally separate, independent and equal.
There is also the vexatious matter of Belize’s Seventh Amendment and the need for it to be reviewed, as it discriminates against “original” Belizeans, with generations of blood ties to Belize, who are denied full citizenship rights simply because they have dual citizenships.
Although the entire world is caught in the web of corruption, and corruption exists in all societies; while some societies are noticeably corrupt, there are others which are not. For the latter, they have checks and balances in place which a responsible government, committed to the good of all its citizens, stringently implements to minimise corruption. Strong law enforcement, an effective judiciary, a watchful Opposition and an active citizenry are required imperatives to deal with treasonous politicians who allow state capture to occur. This was the case in South Africa where the Guptas, an immigrant Indian family, had former President Jacob Zuma in total thrall. Today, they are on the run and Zuma has been replaced with Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa. In addition, when Zuma was accused of corruption, South Africa’s highest court upheld the reinstatement of the 783 corruption charges against him. It also ruled that he had violated South Africa’s Constitution when he failed to repay some of the government’s money he had misappropriated to upgrade his private home.
Belize requires truly effective bodies such as Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) established in 1952, and one of the oldest anti-corruption agencies in the world. Singapore, one of the least corrupt countries, and with one of the lowest crime rates, in the world, has succeeded in stamping out corruption. This is chiefly because it had the political will to do so. Its anti-corruption agency is not only incorruptible as a whole, but is independent from political control and the police. The CPIB is also adequately staffed and funded, and impartial in enforcing anti-corruption laws.
The PUP must note that corruption is greatly undermined when its major sources such as poor salaries, opportunities and loopholes within the system, as well as poor policing, are adequately dealt with. However, no one can eliminate GREED! Still, if the politicians who make our laws and budget the money for those laws to be enforced are honest people, and not every Belizean is a thief, corruption in Belize would virtually disappear.
Again, if the PUP relies on donations from the private sector, various interest groups and wealthy donors, the party and its representatives will become pawns in the service of these interests and not the people of Belize who voted them into office. When corruption is regarded as having low risks with high rewards, and very few, if any, tough laws and sentences exist, and even the political will is absent, then corruption flourishes as it does in Belize. However, if corrupt behaviour becomes that of high risk, low rewards, and honesty is incentivised, and particularly at the top echelon of government there is zero tolerance for corruption, and not hypocrisy and duplicity, this cancer will go into remission.
Our prayer for the Opposition is that it neither tarries much longer in the political wilderness, nor, like a Rastafarian exile, remain “By the rivers of Babylon”.
(The writer resides in Lagos, Nigeria.)