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Our troubled justice system

EditorialOur troubled justice system

It may well be argued that the present executive of Belize, in the form of the United Democratic Party (UDP) Cabinet, lost its moral authority three years ago when Commissioner of Police Allen Whylie was ordered to ignore and defy an order from the Chief Justice of Belize, Kenneth Benjamin.

It may also be argued that the people of Belize sanctioned the UDP Cabinet’s constitutional violation of our justice system when we returned the same Cabinet to office in the general election of November 4, 2015.

Classic parliamentary democracy features an executive, a legislature, and a judiciary. In Belize’s system of governance, the Cabinet is the executive, the House of Representatives is the legislature, and the judiciary includes the Police Department and the court system of Belize. The Prime Minister rules in the executive, the Speaker rules in the legislature, and the Chief Justice rules in the judiciary.

From the beginning of Belize’s Cabinet government in 1961, the executive absorbed the legislature by appointing a Cabinet which outnumbered backbenchers. This meant that decisions made in Cabinet, run by the Premier/Prime Minister, could not be challenged in the House, run by the Speaker. In classic parliamentary democracy, the legislature may vote to send a bill back to Cabinet. No political leader of Belize, PUP or UDP, since the beginning of Cabinet government in Belize, has ever allowed the legislature to perform its proper function. And, after a while, this became the accepted norm in Belize, a bastardized form of parliamentary government.

The justice system has been undermined and corrupted in various ways over the decades. Petty corruption at the first level of the justice system, which is the Police Department, began early. Then, the executive politicians would intimidate the police command, though this was not so common before independence. Attorneys began to bribe witnesses and jurors. Magistrates and judges began to accept bribes. And so Belize’s justice system began to be seen as a fraud by roots people, Belizeans in the streets who knew what was going on.

Respectable, middle class Belizeans always catch on to these types of moral decay in society after, sometimes long after, the streets do. The behavior of Commissioner Whylie with respect to the order of the Chief Justice in the Elvin Penner matter, however, was unprecedented because it was out there for even the blind to see.

There is no intelligent Belizean who believes that Commissioner Whylie is acting on his own accord. Intelligent Belizeans believe that Commissioner Whylie is following instructions from someone whom the ComPol believes to be more powerful and more relevant than the Chief Justice. Now, beloved, who could such a person be?

It may well be argued that Commissioner Whylie should have resigned at that point where he was being told to ignore and defy the Chief Justice. By not resigning, the ComPol proved that he was nobody special or heroic, but that he was an ordinary human being whose loyalty was to himself and his family. Commissioner Whylie remains in his position because his political judgment was correct: the UDP government was re-elected in November of 2015. Had the PUP won that general election, Whylie would no doubt have been history.

Do you see what has happened here? A branch of the justice system has been politicized. The executive, having swallowed the legislature decades ago, has invaded the judiciary. The bastardization of our supposedly parliamentary system of government has now been exaggerated. This is not good. More than that, it is dangerous.

All over Belize a cynicism has grown since our independence. That cynicism is at its worst ever today. If you run afoul of powerful people in Belize, you don’t have recourse to any process which can protect you. Ask Kaina Martinez. Those Belizeans who are not corrupted or intimidated, do not care. Ours is a society without moral fiber. Belize is hedonistic, venal, and, to repeat, cynical.

It was the big people of Belize who brought us to this pass. It was not the roots people of Belize who bastardized the parliamentary system and undermined the justice system. This was done at the level where men and women are respectable, well-dressed, and call themselves honorable. In Belize, you will still go to jail, quickly, for stealing a piece of cheese or a pack of bread. So yes, the power of the system remains in place, but major, major damage has been done to the system’s moral authority. The people of Belize cry out, in pain and in shame.

Power to the people.

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