At every press conference and sitting of the House of Representatives, the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, vociferously declares that his United Democratic Party (UDP) government is not as dishonest as the People’s United Party (PUP) under Musa (former Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Said Musa). It’s a bad joke to many. Fantastically enough, Mr. Barrow is dead serious in his opinion.
When the UDP first returned to office in 2008, they saw themselves as saints, but too many shady deals brought them a long time ago to a state where they accepted that corruption in government “will always be with us.” They have been very dishonest, and they accept that fact, do not deny that they are corrupt, but they bristle at the accusation that they are as rotten to the core as were the PUP of 1998 to 2008.
The people dealt severely with the PUP in 2008, because they believed that the party had been far from honest in their handling of the country’s resources, and after they dumped the PUP they gave the job to the UDP, who had made the solemn promise that they would beat back corruption wherever it reared its ugly head.
The UDP didn’t fight corruption: they embraced it. If it is indeed true that they aren’t as bad as the PUP (and we will not be able to determine the full extent of their rot until after they are out of office), that is no solace to the people. Why is it too much for us to ask for a little honor in the people who lead us?
It’s about degree of disgrace, comparing the lack of integrity of the PUP of 1998 to 2008 and that of the UDP from 2008 to the present. In the ongoing saga, with the UDP in government, Prime Minister Barrow says he is personally clean, clear of any wrongdoing, but there were a few instances in only one week, last week, where he was not entirely truthful with the Belizean people.
The Prime Minister said that it was to his “chagrin” that we don’t have campaign financing laws. He has been leader of our country for the last dozen years, and we can’t recall any instance where he and his party ever discussed the introduction of any such laws. In fact, his party hasn’t even attempted to address the flagrant vote-buying and other abuses of our electoral system.
The Prime Minister boasted that former UDP Minister Elvin Penner was fired from Cabinet, and that was the worst punishment that the gentleman could have gotten from government. Indeed, but are the people of Belize to believe that then Police Commissioner, Mr. Allen Wylie, acted on his own when the Chief Justice, Hon. Kenneth Benjamin, declared that the Commissioner’s failure to act on the immigration matter was “unreasonable, irrational and unlawful”?
The people of Belize are at the mercy of the government they elect; we are near helpless, but we aren’t stupid. Minister Penner was fired to shut down the case, suffocate the extent of government rot in the immigration scandal. The UDP liked to say when they were in opposition that truth crushed to earth will rise. It does.
The Prime Minister said there is no need for any investigation of the finances of high-up UDP officials because their finances are scrutinized by the Integrity Commission. Belize has never had a functioning Integrity Commission. In fact, there are times, years, when Belize doesn’t even have an Integrity Commission. The excuse for the last lapse was that we couldn’t find qualified people who weren’t afraid of having their assets declared.
It’s easy to understand why wealthy folk wouldn’t want the public to know what they own, but they are not the only persons in our country with the competence to scrutinize the assets of our elected officials and a couple high-ups in government.
The UDP controls the Senate, the Public Accounts Committee, and the major Boards; the Integrity Commission is a dud; and the Contractor General’s office was vacant for two years.
At last we can breathe a sigh of relief, for there is now a Contractor General in office. The last Contractor General, Mr. Godwin Arzu, his contract wasn’t renewed a couple years ago because he was not up-to-date with his annual reports. Independent parties said the Contractor General did not get the assistance he needed/asked for to complete the reports on the many projects the very liquid UDP governments implemented.
If we think back a little, we will recall that the Barrow governments received a lot of money through taxes collected from the oil wells in Spanish Lookout, and through extremely soft loans from the Petro Caribe program.
No other Government of Belize has passed through the quantity of funds the three Barrow governments have consumed. The Manuel Esquivel UDP government of 1984 to 1989 received serious liquidity through sales of passports and shares in BTL, and from USAID projects, but for the most part our governments have had to depend on borrowing to fund development projects. The Barrow governments have tapped into the regular lenders, and on top of that they received nearly a billion dollars in taxes from oil exports and the Petro Caribe program.
The Barrow governments carried out their projects mostly out of the glare of oversight bodies, because it rendered those oversight bodies toothless. In the absence of the systems, the “check and balance” bodies, it is possible that the corruption we see in the UDP is but the tip of the iceberg.
The government of the day wields tremendous power, so people are wisely cautious about revealing the corruption that members of the party are engaged in. The UDP must be terrified of being booted from government because people who know about all their illegal activities will no longer be afraid to talk. It is then that the entirety of the corruption will spill out.
Why would a government dismantle these oversight bodies? Is it that they ignorantly believed, like the Pharisees, that they were superior human beings?
It is said that if you keep repeating a big lie, it will at some point be accepted as truth. The UDP quite likely repeated the lie that they were saints too many times for their own good and for our good. — to the detriment of “their own” good because they are sullied for all time, and also to “ours”, because it is we the people who continue to pay for all government corruption.
The UDP really has to check itself with its propaganda. They are not who they said they were, far from.