With Campaign Financing legislation coming on-stream, the Elections and Boundaries Commission to be less under the control of the ruling party, redistricting of Electoral Divisions on the horizon, and implementation of important UNCAC provisions now in sight, Belizeans should expect our present system to deliver more for the people and less for the party that wins control of government.
Over the years our political leaders have been unwilling to make laws that curtail their power, and they have disrespected existing laws, so to make these legislated advances bear fruit for the people we are depending on our social partner organizations to carry the load. They have been at the fore; now they will have to do more.
Ambassador David Gibson, the Coordinator of the think thank, Centre for Strategic Studies Policy Analysis and Research (CSSPAR), has issued a call for strong representation of the social partner organizations on the Integrity Commission, the Elections and Boundaries Commission, the Public Service Commission, and the proposed Public Contracts Commission.
Earlier this month the Belize Peace Movement (BPM) announced that the organization has been accepted as a member of the UNCAC Civil Society Coalition and it will be stepping up its efforts in the fight for good governance. A BPM release said the organization is about to “intensify its efforts toward making the tenets of: accountability, transparency, consultation and above all adherence to the rule of law, the norm and not an aberration, in Belize.”
Key to the successful enforcement of whistleblower protection and political campaign finance laws, and functioning of our important oversight bodies, are the representatives selected by the social partner organizations. In the selection of representatives the social partner organizations have not always sent their best talents. A glaring failure was the churches forwarding a senator whose stated purpose was to maintain peace in the upper house.
Certain criteria must be met, be mandatory, in fact, when these organizations select an individual to represent them on government bodies. In respect to the Senate, the elected parties can play their political games, but in the upper house the social partner organizations must choose senators who know our Constitution, know our history, and are knowledgeable about all the financial affairs of our nation.
Call Centers shine in Belize
Of all the industries in Belize, the most pleasantly surprising has to be the call centers, which are just about the most important provider of jobs for our young people at this time. Business Process Outsourcing, (BPO), commonly referred to as call centers, is like a windfall, because most of us didn’t expect it to be performing so well.
As we noted in an editorial some months before the pandemic, Belize’s economy would be in huge trouble if we didn’t have this industry, and it has been suggested that this is an area where we might want to invest more. However, Business Process Outsourcing is even more fragile than our number one industry, tourism, so we have to put in the effort to keep our competitive advantage.
Some estimates indicate that there might be as many as 5,000 persons employed in call centers across Belize, and with the average worker (according to the website salaryexplorer.com) earning BZ$1,540 per month, inclusive of housing, transport and other benefits— all of which enters the country as US dollars — this is an industry that is approaching cornerstone status in our economy. Based on the unofficial statistics, the fledgling BPO industry is bringing in more than US$45 million in foreign exchange.
The salaries most of the employees in the industry are earning are not fantastic, but they are a lot better than the $5 minimum wage that the new government is aspiring to legislate. To hold on to and increase our share of the industry we will need a high level of management and a versatile, increasingly educated talent pool, because it is very competitive out there.
Ms. Naweed Chougle, in the 2017 story, “The Future of the Call Center Industry in India”, which was published in Trak.in, a leading business and tech news blog in India, noted that for various reasons business outsourced from the UK and the US was declining in that country, one of those reasons being that the British and Americans had some trouble with the Indian accent.
Another reason for the decline in business, she noted, was that the weakened economies of the UK and the USA at that time had led companies in those countries to hire at home. In the UK and US, “employing local people has become a priority over cutting costs to up to one-fifth by outsourcing to India,” she said. Ms. Naweed also noted that inflation and salary increases had driven up the cost of doing business in India, and that meant their cost advantage was diminishing.
Ms. Blake Morgan, in the story, “Will Call Centers Still Take Calls in 10 Years”, which was published by Forbes magazine in 2018, outlined three scenarios: one, they will exist, still take calls, because people trust human beings more than they trust machines (74% of people contact customer service via phone, more than they use any other channel); two, they won’t exist, because as digital technology grows, a greater number of customers will care more about getting their business done quickly than how it gets done; and three, they will evolve to include artificial intelligence systems which will process a customer’s past business and interactions before forwarding them to a person who can address the problem right away.
Tim Pickard, in his 2015 story “The Future Call Center: 10 Predictions for the Next 10 Years”, published by Vonage, at the website vonage.com, said that by 2025 the physical center will give way to remote working, and that the call center workers will have to be “super agents” with excellent interpersonal skills. Mr. Pickard said the call center worker will need more than “excellent communication skills, they’ll need analytical problem-solving skills, project management – and in some cases, technical training, in order to understand the finer details of the product or service.”
As per their interpersonal skills, Mr. Pickard said consumers demand great service, that studies show 50% of customers in the UK will buy “from a competitor as the result of poor customer service”, and 44% of US customers would do the same.
The jobs aren’t high-end for most of the workers, but in an economy that isn’t doing great things at this time, call centers are the new Williamson’s and Nova.