Let’s start this thing at the very beginning. Every year the IMF team comes to Belize and says our economy is not doing well enough to support the government’s wage bill, and calls are made for cuts and increased tax rates and so forth. Everyone knew that a big part of our failure was that we were being robbed blind by our elected representatives and their cronies.
The public servants knew that things were going wrong, because they handle the government’s finances and assets, under instructions from their political bosses. They could not respond as they normally would have because, since partisan CEOs were installed at the head of the departments, many in their ranks kowtow to government leaders.
The teachers, nurses too, could only look on at the squander and corruption, but after a while they realized that the chickens would one day come home to roost, and the teachers, who were in a better position to do something about it, took the bull by the horns.
In the midst of this battle the teachers were having with the elected representatives, to wrestle away some of their power so that we could be better governed, along came Covid-19, which devastated our weak economy.
Make no mistake, our economy is as bad as it gets. We are a country that is 4 billion dollars in debt; two of our major industries, citrus and farmed shrimp, are on the ropes; there is no Petro Caribe — the UDP spent it all; and there is little oil, since the wells in Spanish Lookout are nearly dry. On top of that, the desperate UDP spent money we didn’t have in an effort to win the November general elections.
The new government has decided that the economy is too weak to support the wage bill, and it decided that some major cuts in government spending are necessary at this time, including salaries of its employees. Everyone knows these cuts will cause the economy to suffer even more; our present leaders have said they don’t want to cut salaries, but they have no other choice.
As I understand it, the government has set wage cuts to begin with employees earning more than $12,000 per year. Some said that is divide and conquer, but I believe most Belizeans see that move as acting with conscience. The government moved to tier the cuts, so that those on lower pay scales suffer less pain. Again some said divide and conquer, and again, I believe most Belizeans see the tiered cuts as reasonable.
For its own reasons, the government was very up-front about the cuts. Their reasons could be: one, they believe in treating their employees with total respect; two, they don’t believe the Belizean people can handle any more deception; three, they believed that their employees would have gladly accepted the cuts, knowing that it could be worse; four, they have to show the IMF and the bondholders and Ashcroft that we are serious — remember, we owe $4 billion; five, we are still in the grip of the pandemic so they didn’t contemplate their employees going on strike; and six, their mandate being fresh, they felt their employees would give them the space to implement their programs to make all of us win.
Whatever plans were made, we are now in the absolute worst place we can be: a strike. I said I support the pressure, 100%, but I am not in favor of the strike. But, if you put me on Animal Farm, I think like Boxer, so you should ignore me.
Bad traveling experiences
I have not been traveling on buses since Covid-19 imprisoned us; my younger sister drives to Belize City once each week, so I have one hundred percent given over to riding with her when I go to that second city. One of the things that always irked me when traveling on buses was the mayhem at the bus terminals in the evenings, a very sick scene that showed how logistically deficient or uncaring the people who have authority in this country are.
My especial concern was for women trying to catch a bus home, while a hundred people are fighting for a space on a 55-seater. Here’s why the pure bias for women in this scenario: I’m just totally awed by them, because they go to an 8-to-5, and then go home in the evenings and give care to their children and help them with their homework, and on top of that they prepare meals and wash clothes.
I’m not overlooking stay-at-home women who have ten children. My gudnis, there are women with ten children who do the 8-to-5, and I’ll cut down on the butter here by pointing out that God blessed them with the capacity to multi-task, so what appears impossible to us, must be a piece of cake to them.
Ai, some evenings while waiting for the bus you see these women, many of them bone tired, and the daam transport system is sputtering. You know that nothing reduces us to our base animal selves more than starvation, and waiting for service. If you want to test your civility, try not having any money to buy food, or find yourself in a slow moving line.
I can always use some points, and there have been times when I arrived at the bus terminal to catch the seven o’clock bus and didn’t get on a bus until nine. I’ll have to give back those points. It wasn’t often that I was so patient.
My first bad experience on the road recently was a checkpoint at 5:00 p.m. on the highway. For me the test of patience had to do with the fact that I was driving, and I prefer to drive during daylight hours, so if you slow down traffic to a crawl at a checkpoint at such an hour, I have to drive faster to “make up time.” I couldn’t help remembering mothers who were heading home and their quality time was being squandered.
My second bad experience was dragging four miles behind a truck loaded with sugarcane. The truck’s best speed was 40 mph, but much of the time it travelled at 20 mph, and there were times it slowed to a crawl. There were a couple opportunities for me to pass, but I didn’t, because there were two small trucks ahead of me and their drivers had decided to satta, stay safe.
You’ve heard about the reprimand for my very good friend, Simon Willacey, how he got a stern lecture from Mexican police because he was a menace on the highway. Simon went up to Texas and bought a small truck and, being a very respectful guy, on the return he was cruising through Mexico at 40 or 45, and he got pulled over and lectured to, for gumming up the traffic.
I am told that these trucks are on the road during rush hours both morning and evening. Now, business comes before safety — we have to eat so we have a body to protect — but it isn’t necessary for these trucks to be moving during rush hour. They need to do a shift system at the farm so that they do the bulk of their moving before daybreak and after ten at night. These trucks shouldn’t be on the road during rush hours.
Hmm, to those who might have been interested in my continuing the excerpts from my book, I’m out of space again. Ah, it’s more than that. I said the book was safe, it is…oh, one of my great buddies, Brother Gasper Martinez, just arrived at my house with some magnificent blue mangoes and I’m on deadline so I’m punching the send button on this piece now. Perdón, I’ll complete my explanation next week.