In these very tough financial times, when the poorest of the poor are getting more desperate, the Belizean people have for the most part become very cynical about the motives of politicians. Some even regard the “honorable” title as some sort of joke; and more than a few believe that the objective of people in politics is to enrich themselves. In fact, it is so bad that a goodly number of citizens would even remark that they would do the same, if given the opportunity; and a few have even been heard to ridicule the few politicians who left office in a modest fashion — calling them”stupid,” for not grabbing what they could for themselves while they had the opportunity. Is that the formula for the success of a nation? Or does it explain the cause of the predicament we now face? Has the scourge of political CORRUPTION, despite all the previously announced attempts to “stop it,” finally sunk our nation into this deep hole of debt in 2021, with no clearly defined strategy yet on how we will slay this dragon? Could it be that, finally, the teachers and other unionists have come to the realization that the task cannot be left to either of the political parties to do it voluntarily; because it is simply against “the nature of the beast”?
Indications are that a number of politicians in Belize, some leaders even, would like to see an end to political corruption. Enough promises have been made; but although “the heart is willing,” the reality of business in politics usually prevails, and “the flesh is weak.”
After month-long negotiations between representatives of Government and the Joint Unions came to a halt a few days before the House Meeting of Friday, April 9, the first Budget Speech by Prime Minister John Briceno included the dreaded 10% salary cut and increment freeze for public officers, which the unions were fighting against, and which the government maintained it was compelled to do because of the dire financial situation.
Last week, members of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) embarked on a strike, which continues this coming week. And on Tuesday, May 4, they are expected to be joined in strike action by members of the Public Service Union (PSU). The objective of the strike is to bring Government back to the negotiation table regarding the 10% pay cut and the passing of specific legislation to satisfy the unions’ demand for “Good Governance.” The 10% salary cuts and increment freeze are already law now, but the unions are striking anyway, and their “body language” and persistent demands for “good governance” would seem to indicate that they might be resigned to endure the salary cuts, but only if they first see the good governance laws in place, especially those related to UNCAC, and certainly including campaign finance legislation, illicit enrichment laws, and others. As BNTU president Elena Smith told the media while teachers protested outside the Senate Meeting on Wednesday, April 28: “..it’s about more than the 10. It’s about the 10 plus. Because we know that without good governance we will be back here again two years from now, three years from now, ten years from now.”
Indeed, we have been “back here” a few times already. And as the teachers and other unions press forward with their strike demands for good governance legislation, the question has to be asked, “If not now, when?” Is the Attorney General’s response, that they are “understaffed” in the “legal drafting unit,” acceptable at this time?
Below, we invite readers, especially our unionists and politicians, to reflect on a voice from the recent past that addresses this matter of legislation to stop corruption. It might help us to appreciate how much prodding our government may need to finally enact the laws that unionists so earnestly desire in the face of their bitter sacrifice of 10% of their salaries.
We refer you to Amandala online, and a letter to the editor dated Thursday, October 21, 2010, from Bobby Lopez, then VIP campaign manager. The letter is titled: “Is the PUDP serious about change?” Recall that the UDP had won the 2008 general elections. Here are a few excerpts:
October 21, 2010
… As the resolutions were read out by the PARTY faithful …I concluded, okay, they will leave the best for last! Even though I would have expected… that the very first resolution tabled would have tackled the very issue that booted them out of office in 2008! CORRUPTION!
So I listened and waited patiently as each resolution was read, but it was not to be… How could I be so naïve! The PUP, like the UDP, is about winning elections! And winning elections is all about MONEY! And MONEY is the root of corruption. How could I ever expect the PUDP to pass a resolution for transparency and accountability in their campaign financing! That is why we now refer to them as the PUDP. They are the same coin with different faces.
The UDP had their national convention two months ago and it was the same thing. I am now convinced that the PUDP will not bell the corruption cat! It’s business as usual. Two and a half years into their term and the UDP has not made a move to tackle corruption at its very root! CAMPAIGN FINANCING!
… I am.. reminded of the words of Prime Minister Barrow in an interview with Amandala’s Adele Ramos, printed January 25th, 2008, about 3 weeks before the 2008 general elections… When asked about campaign financing, Mr. Barrow replied, “what’s going to stop the big boys from giving the money under the table, how on earth could they ever be caught?” He went on to say, “everyone is coming in with their widow’s mite, everybody is coming with their $20,000.00, $ 40,000.00, $ 50,000.00″ and “we have not received any donation over $200,000.00.”
Don’t you wonder who gives these “widow’s mite” contributions?… Did Mr. Ashcroft give money to any of the UDP candidates? Just who were these BIG BOYS? And what are they getting in return? Land? Development concessions? Contracts? Oil or mining rights? Make no doubt, these BIG BOYS get BIG RETURNS!
Mr. Barrow goes on to say, “I am still to figure out how to make those laws effective.” If the PUDP can’t figure how to stop (or resist) taking money under the table, then corruption in public office will only continue to escalate and our Belize will continue down this path to oblivion!…
First, let me tell you what’s going to stop them! Honest Belizeans will stop them!…
Secondly, …the enactment of campaign financing legislation with jail penalties for breach thereof! YES, JAIL TIME for both the politician who takes money and the “BIG BOYS” who give it under the table, without declaring it fully!… [End of quote,]
Ten years later, in their 2020 pre-election plan, “Six Steps to Make Government More Accountable” on page 20 of The Belize Times, the PUP party organ, for Sunday, February 23, 2020, in outlining Step #4, said: “The PUP will not only implement UNCAC, but we will also enact Campaign Finance Legislation. In the first 100 days, the new PUP government will direct the Office of the Attorney General to draft Campaign Finance legislation which will be subject to national consultations and review before a final bill is tabled and passed into law.”
Well, here we are at rock bottom. But, do Belizeans find it a bit strange, how quickly after the new government got into power that we hear of new cruise port facilities being forwarded for their EIA approval and green light by government? What’s next?
Our unionists say, “no cuts without good governance legislation.” Will “honest Belizeans” support them?