At the last press conference hosted by Prime Minister Barrow, on Friday, August 21, the Prime Minister said, after the Minister of Education and leader-elect of the UDP, Hon. Patrick Faber, had outlined his ministry’s new plans for getting Belizean students back into the education system after a 5-month hiatus, that he didn’t want to sound like he was gushing when he described the efforts of the man whom his party had chosen after two tries to lead them in the next general election.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) had planned for students to return to school on August 10, but that was scuttled when in early August many persons started testing positive for COVID-19 and it became apparent that we had entered the dreaded second wave of the pandemic. With the physical opening of schools now on the shelf for no one knows how long, the MOE has decided that students across the country will get their instructions through distance learning. Minister Faber said that pre-school and primary school children will begin getting instructions on September 7, and on October 5 the extended holiday for youth at secondary schools will be over. (Online classes at UB commenced on August 17.)
The minister said the distance education for pre-school and primary school students will focus on paper-based learning, and that his ministry had taken a portion of the resources allotted for the annual September celebrations to contribute a small sum per student to help defray the cost of production of materials. The minister explained that teachers at the secondary level will get training in online teaching and the use of digital platforms in September, and that his ministry had sourced 8,000 digital devices that will be given out to students who don’t have one. The minister explained that there will be considerable savings for parents, because the necessary textbooks will be uploaded to the devices.
The Prime Minister, in discussing the plans of Minister Faber and the MoE, said he didn’t want to gush, but the superlatives were without end. PM Barrow said he was “bowled over” by the “absolutely comprehensive plans” of the ministry. He was impressed by the minister’s “resourcefulness in finding the funds necessary” to cover the cost of the thousands of devices that will be delivered all across the country. In fact, he was so impressed “by the way Minister Faber put it all together”, that it brought to mind the exploits of the famous Generalissimo Napoleon.
As we all know, the Hon. Dean Barrow can run in the next general election if he chooses, but the Constitution bars him from serving as prime minister of our country again. He has decided to retire. The UDP had to select a new leader before the next general election, which the Constitution says must be called by the end of the last week in November, and in early February they held a convention to decide who would be their new head.
Let’s be blunt. The Hon. John Saldivar was the overwhelming favorite of the ranking members of the unabashed so-what-the-PUP-was-corrupt-too section of the UDP, and the Barrow faction of the UDP, for their reason(s) threw their support behind him when he and Faber faced off for leadership of the party on February 9, 2020. In the lead-up to that convention we learned about the numerous faults of Mr. Faber.
Saldivar won, and as we all know, mere days after that convention he was removed from Cabinet and he had to vacate the post of leader-elect of the UDP. Saldivar has lost his portfolio twice, both times for the same reason — association with, and accepting funds from, wholly unsavory characters. So, the UDP held another convention, on July 12, 2020, and, to the surprise of all Belizeans who aren’t supporters of the UDP, Saldivar contested again, but, with the Barrow faction throwing their weight this time behind the Faber they spurned five months previously, Faber won, in a squeaker.
What we have here in Minister Faber is a second choice that has now become the headman, and there is a little over two months to put some luster on him so that the party doesn’t flop in November. The effort began in earnest last Friday.
The end of gill net fishing by 2022
The Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development, and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana, stated in a joint press release issued on August 20 that they had come to an agreement to “support gill net fishers’ transition to alternative means.” This is great news all around, and it comes after years of effort by the environmental groups.
In 2010 Belize banned shrimp trawling, a victory led by Oceana and its Belize vice-president, Ms. Audrey Matura, and which was aided, Oceana says, by threats from UNESCO “to strip the Belize Barrier Reef of its World Heritage Site status.” Oceana and its present Belize vice-president, Ms. Janelle Chanona, were at the fore again in this victory to end gill net fishing in Belize by 2022.
Gill net fishing, like shrimp trawling, is notorious for the indiscriminate fishing and killing of protected species. It is an ancient way of fishing that could have been ignored in a time when there was no worry about exhausting the fish stock in the sea. That age is no more.
The release says that the agreement provides for the disbursement of financial support to gill net fishers, and they will also be assisted in developing skills in other livelihoods as they phase out their use of the equipment. A full ban on gill nets should come into effect by January 2022 at the latest.
The benefits that will be derived from ending fishing with gill nets will be tremendous. There’ll be considerable reduction in the harvesting of endangered, protected or undesired species. The fish stock will be greater, because there’ll be no more wholesale harvest of schools of mackerels, jacks, and game fish.
The increased fish stock will not only be good for fishers who are in the business of catching them for food, but it will also encourage more sport fishing, the kind of tourism that we want. This type of tourism does not make a deep footprint on the environment, and the kinds of tourists who engage in it are willing to pay a fair price for their fun. The agreement is good for Belize.