According to the design of our political system, our parliamentary democracy, it is the duty of the opposition party in the House of Representatives to keep the government on its toes. By design there are mechanisms to enable the opposition party to do just that; however, in our system, due to the way we conduct parliamentary democracy, such parts of the system are in dire need of a thorough oil job. Some of those parts are so out of use, little used, they are covered in rust.
We know the parts that are set to enable the opposition party to force the government to perform honestly and efficiently, not because these parts work, but because there is a lot of complaining about them.
We all know about the term, back bencher. In a parliamentary democracy the Cabinet (ministers) should never form a majority in the House. The best example of a parliamentary democracy functioning the way it was designed is the one in the United Kingdom, the country from whence we got the system. According to Wikipedia, there are 650 parliamentarians in the UK (one for every 92,000 people), and 21 ministers. In contrast, the 19 members of our present government in Belize are either ministers or ministers of state.
Another non-functioning, useless part of the system is the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). This committee is supposed to scrutinize government spending. This committee rarely meets, and when it does it barely ever gets anything meaningful done.
We have a senate, with a 13th senator for the purpose of ensuring that the government, which has six members in the senate, cannot get that body to rubber stamp any of the government’s initiatives. The government appears to have 100% control over this 13th senator.
We have an office for a Contractor General, but this office has a sign upon the door that says, ‘out of office’.
There is an Auditor General, whose office is to inspect and audit government transactions and properties, but the government is very slow forwarding the information this office needs to fulfill its purpose.
We had a law that allowed for “crossing the floor”, but that was snuffed out. The PUP put it in their 1997 manifesto that crossing the floor was to be made unconstitutional, and the Political Reform Commission agreed with them in their report in 2000. That was the end of that. Maybe it wasn’t the worst idea to get rid of that law, because it had been used for altogether suspect reasons.
Our system has been called a dictatorship, and a five-year charade, with parties that fail at the polls throwing in the towel almost until the end of the five-year period, until another election. In the first two years after a general election the opposition party is nowhere to be found. Opposition members who win a seat are paid to task the government. But in those first two years they are mostly on paid vacation.
During the next two years the paid opposition starts shaking out of their dormancy, but not enough to effectively carry out the function of opposing the government when it goes astray. During this period they are mostly about selecting candidates for the election on the horizon. Maybe they are well in order to disappear. Why shouldn’t they, when all the parts of the system that allow for them to earn their pay are made non-functional by the party that controls the government?
This void left by the opposition is filled, somewhat, by the media and the labor unions. Over the past fifty years, much of the heavy lifting to expose government failures has been done by the Amandala, even though it can be said that, during brief periods over the decades, this institution has been in working relationships with sitting governments.
For four out of the five years the opposition is in a dormant state, just waiting for the election cycle to come around. Then they spring into action, buoyed by hopes of taking control of the spoils.
The present paid opposition has been out of office for three consecutive terms and with new elections on the horizon, they are no longer in their resting phase. Just a short while ago, when they were rousting from their doze, from their eye-half-opened state they made an interesting observation about the present government. This observation was that the present government has made a habit of recycling unfulfilled promises, year after year.
The UDP government promises, and when they don’t deliver they promise again, and so it goes, recycling and recycling, almost ad infinitum.
We expect to hear great news about the Coastal Road in the new budget. All the studies say that this road, if it is improved, will result in considerable savings for our country. A little booklet could be produced about the many mentions of what will be done, but the book could have no saving conclusion. Year after year of holding out hopes, there have been only empty promises.
We don’t think it is because the Prime Minister is ashamed of saying what will be done on this road, why he didn’t put it in the recycler at the recently held Business Forum. Maybe it’s because he didn’t want any distractions from the special promise he had targeted for recycling at the occasion.
Some things are worth the wait, and late is always better than never, but it can’t be right to tease us. More than ten years after promising this nation transparency and accountability in all our public affairs, the Prime Minister coupled these two terms in a discussion about changes in the police department. He said: “There is new leadership at the top, restructuring across all ranks, and an already visible effort at greater effectiveness and greater communication, transparency and accountability”. (emphasis ours)
We were to have had that, transparency and accountability, in governance. It wasn’t so hard to achieve. We had all the institutions in place, designed for that purpose, ready to deliver so that we never again had government that made telecommunication deals in the dead of night, and got away with it.
No, that’s not the special promise for the recycling machine. And this one isn’t either. The Prime Minister said he “didn’t subscribe to reducing the number of GST zero-rated, poor people items as a so-called way of obliging alteration of unhealthy lifestyles. “ He said this should be done through education and social activism and culture change, not by “big-brother type punitive increases on traditional staples of the poor.”
Are these decisions ever from Cabinet, or is this dictator rule? Where is government support for this great education campaign to effect the absolutely necessary culture change? Is the Prime Minister or anyone in his cabinet aware of the absolutely horrific statistics about the state of kidneys and blood vessels in our country? Why can’t we stop wholesome potatoes rotting in the fields and get them on our dinner tables instead of preservative-loaded imported foods?
The PM described the notable promise that was recycled at the Business Forum as “the headline grabber.” This “headline grabber,”