A columnist in The Guardian wrote in last week’s edition of that newspaper that “The Amandala’s Editor does NOT know that the referendum is very, very different from a vote of no confidence.” We believe the columnist is referring to our editorial of May 11, 2019, titled, “Belize Going To The ICJ”, in which we said that if Belize had voted NO in the referendum on May 8, the Prime Minister should have “gone to the Governor General the next morning and told him to dissolve the government.”
We would allow that the Prime Minister could have taken the fall for all of his men and women. We insist that if the May 8 referendum was consequential, and the UDP and the Guardian said it definitely was critical and critical that we voted YES, and to that end the government and the Friends of Belize invested millions of dollars, then it cannot be that life continued just as before, if we had voted NO.
There are people who said NO was a better vote for Belize. Those persons, however, were not the leaders of government. Our argument was based on what the government said about the referendum.
Before we go on, we must point out that we are not singling out the columnist who felt he/she needed to educate us. The person may be purely political. That is consistent with the behavior of the present UDP.
Indeed, this was a referendum, not a vote of confidence/no confidence. Our point was that there are consequences for failure; leaders must account for what they do/fail to do. If there are no consequences for failure, then it may be better for the Belizean people that henceforth, all persons who are interested in leading the country place their names in a hat.
The fact is that there are many people in Belize, too many, who hold soft ideas about leadership. We have the proof on the ground. Our leaders don’t account to us; our leaders are not accountable and that is why there is so much chaos and despair, hopelessness in our country.
We cannot accept the five-year submission to the electorate as the only form of accountability. There could be no sweeter deal than that for leaders. They do what they want for five years, all the while manipulating the system through various mechanisms to secure a favorable result come election-day.
We note that the party that controls government controls the election machinery and the election date. We note that they manipulate the selection of candidates in their parties to consolidate their positions, so they can deliver the goods and services for another cycle, not for the people, but for their families and close friends. These are things we need to talk about.
Leaders should answer for some of their actions/inactions every day, and many of their actions/inactions before the end of their term. There’s a reason why the leader and leaders of the country get paid very well and receive considerable perks. That reason is not just because they are the most popular persons in the country and make promises that sit well with the people. We expect that they will deliver the goods when they assume office.
When leaders fail, innocent people and children feel pain. It is because people expect their leaders to deliver, why they take care of them so well. It is because people need their leaders to do well, why they should put much pressure on them. Good leaders, like diamonds, are only produced under great heat and great pressure.
We have systems that are designed to allow us to keep our elected leaders in check. Over time our elected leaders have eroded, even trampled on these systems, and thus they are able to insulate themselves from the scrutiny of the people. Elected leaders also use agents in their newspaper and their radio and television stations to harass those who try to scrutinize what they are doing, thus creating even greater insulation, even impunity.
There were consequences on May 8. We hate to think that the likely aftermath of a NO vote was what the Foreign Minister said it would very likely be, and what The Guardian of May 5, 2019, told us of in an article titled, “We must vote on Referendum Day.” If we go by the content of that story, it really should have been titled, “Why we desperately need a YES vote on Referendum Day.”
If we say the Prime Minister shouldn’t have resigned, or dissolved the House if the majority vote was NO, we are saying that the vote was of little import. That was not the assessment of government, the Foreign Minister especially. He, the Foreign Minister, happens to be a person who we expect would have known as much as anyone about what would happen if we voted YES, or we voted NO.
It is very concerning that there appears to be no failure for which a leader or leaders in Belize can be responsible, or any circumstances brought on them, that honor would demand of them that they leave government.
Elections have been called early in Belize, but that is always strategic. Sure, our political leaders offer noble reasons for their decisions, but the facts bear out that in all instances their primary opposition was experiencing internal problems, was not battle ready.
The day of the referendum, the Prime Minister, in an interview with KREM’s News Anchor, Mr. Orson Picart, told him in so many words that we would have a lot of work to do if the people voted NO. He indicated that he didn’t see how extra pressure could have been brought on his government if the people didn’t vote YES.
The Prime Minister said the right thing, before the fact. It would have been pointless for him to say that he would resign if the people rejected all the investment that had been put in for a YES vote, when he had already called out all his party members. Indeed, he could only have energized the NO vote with such a comment.
The argument exists that both major parties were involved with the signing of the Special Agreement. The UDP has forwarded that the PUP betrayed the process. The PUP has forwarded evidence to show that it was the UDP that betrayed the process.
A big fret in the UDP, what would have stopped them from doing the honorable thing had the vote been NO, is that the PUP would have benefited from their betrayal. That was not a given. The UDP would have contested the election and the people could have voted them back in. The people could also have decided to clean House and put in a third party.
If Belize employed the fixed four-year term, our governments would avoid all these contortions. If the term of office was fixed, the UDP could have been honorable about the Mr. Penner Affair.
We recall that the UDP (2012-2015) was operating on a slim 17-14 majority, and they desperately wanted to keep the spread between themselves and the Opposition. To keep Mr. Penner, who at the least was perceived to have done a very dishonest deed, the government descended to suspect methods to defend against the recall mechanism, and all perceive that they interfered with the office of the Police Commissioner. He, the Police Commissioner, lost the confidence of the Belizean people when he seemed to act at the behest of the politicians. He would retire a bitter man.
It is not impossible that the fixed-four year term would have been tested by the passport scandal, because had Mr. Penner been pushed, as he should have been (he was removed from Cabinet in 2013 but did not resign), a whole lot of politicians who are now clinging to power, with some aspiring for more, might have followed him out the door. The Senate Immigration Inquiry showed that others were involved in the passport malfeasance.
Where there is no pressure in the system, the politicians are not forced to be honorable, and when politicians are not honorable the people pay a steep price. Dishonorable politicians do not resign for egregious policy errors, bad personal conduct/choices, and they cover up all corruption.