Editorial — 09 October 2019
Unworkable contract costs in Belize City

Judge Courtenay Abel’s ruling in favor of the complainant in the case brought against the Mayor of Belize City and the Belize City Council (BCC) by former City Administrator, Ms. Candice Miller, most likely did not surprise many people. Ms. Miller had accused the Mayor, Bernard Wagner, of wrongly dismissing her for “gross dereliction of duty.” The background story is that former Mayor, Darrell Bradley, had signed Miller to a 4-year contract mere months before the previous Belize City Council was due to dissolve.

Former Mayor, Bradley, is a trained attorney, and so, drawing up contracts being routine for members of that profession, the only question was how much the learned judge would award Ms. Miller.

If we recall correctly, at the time Bradley drew up the contract his justification was that it was about continuity. His rationale was that extending the City Administrator’s contract into the next administration would ensure that there was no disruption of the projects the incumbent council was implementing.

When he was challenged about his decision he told the media: “I’m the mayor up until the last day of this month. I do things which I consider to be in the best interest of the City. People may disagree. They may complain, but I am the mayor.” (quote taken from 7News)

It is possible that Bradley was cocksure that the next Belize City Council would be controlled by the United Democratic Party (UDP), the party he belonged to, but that should not have influenced his decision. Darrell Bradley has a Master’s degree in Public Administration, but he apparently is clueless about management. The incoming Mayor should have the right to choose who fills the post of City Administrator.

The website, Our procedures | London City Hall – London.gov.uk, in the section, “Protocol on Mayoral Appointments”, speaks to the number of staff appointments/political advisers the Mayor of London can hire, and explains that these appointees “cannot extend beyond the term of office for which the Mayor was elected.” The Protocol says the “appointments therefore terminate by operation of law at the end of the Mayoral term, unless terminated earlier by the Mayor or by the employee.”

The scope of work of these appointees encompasses much of what could be expected of the City Administrator of the BCC, and these include: reviewing papers, drawing attention to aspects of these papers “they think has particular implications for the Mayoralty, and ensuring that sensitive political points are handled properly.”

These appointees “give policy guidance on behalf of the Mayor”, prepare “policy papers which can generate long-term policy thinking”, assist with speech writing, liaise with interest groups, represent the Mayor at meetings, provide “expert advice as a specialist in a particular field…represent the views of the Mayor to the media”… and add “a greater degree of political content to material prepared” by other councilors, among other duties.

The City of London isn’t from outer space. They also have elected representatives who represent different sections of their city. Elected representatives, for a number of reasons, function differently from political appointees.

The City Administrator is a political ally, a confidante, a person who must be capable and also highly trusted by the Mayor. The City Administrator is not a public servant or an employee of a quasi-government body: he/she is the right hand of a politician who has three years to deliver the goods for his/her city. If the politician (Mayor) succeeds, they are praised; if the politician (Mayor) fails, they are disgraced.

There is everything right in trying to improve on systems, but in this instance the outgoing Mayor, Darrell Bradley, got his wires completely crossed when he chose the person who would fulfill these duties for the incoming Mayor, Bernard Wagner. The kindest description we have for this contract is that it was ill-advised, and unworkable.

After the trial, Ms. Miller expressed satisfaction that she had been vindicated of the charge of “gross dereliction of duty.” Apparently, the Mayor had tried to frustrate her into resigning from the contract, and all she could be said to have been guilty of, was clutching on to it, not letting it go.

Her attorney, Ms. Magali Perdomo, told the media that the case was simple because “a contract is a contract is a contract.” Indeed, the only “law” it broke was protocol, which had been established by people who have common sense.

The ambitious, maybe arrogant former Mayor of Belize City, Darrell Bradley, shackled his successor with an unworkable contract. The present Mayor, Bernard Wagner, thought he’d found an angle to extricate himself and his city from it.

PM’s explanation to amend Contractor-General Act doesn’t cut it

On Friday last the PM went to the House and told us, in so many words, that he had found a suitable candidate to fill the post of Contractor-General, but the stumbling block is a clause in the Act.

He said he recognizes the urgency to have someone take up the post (it’s going on 2 years now that this post has been vacant) so he was introducing an amendment to the requirements to serve in the post, with the hope that said amendment would encourage a qualified Belizean to take the job.

The PM offered that what apparently has stopped some qualified persons from applying for the job is that the law says that someone who has held the post of Contractor-General, cannot subsequently get a job in the public service. The PM said he had difficulty fathoming the purpose of this section of the law.

When Hon. Francis Fonseca came to the assistance of the PM with the suggestion that the section could be in place to deter a Contractor-General from becoming a tool of a government for the reward of one of the plum jobs in the Public Service later, the PM responded, in so many words, that he couldn’t see the big deal there because a dishonest government has many more means to corrupt an office.

That fact he didn’t have to tell Belizeans. We know about the capacity of dishonest leaders all too well, and that’s why we have been calling on his government to please, for the good of the country and the sake of God, to do the right thing and reform the Public Accounts Committee, and reform the Senate. Belizeans know they cannot altogether stop wily ministers from stealing from the government’s treasury, but they would like that we try, at the least that we try.

Persons who have their eyes on a good public service job down the road are a minor subset of a talented pool of Belizeans who qualify to serve as Contractor-General. The post doesn’t have to be filled by a young or middle-aged person.

The Contractor-General’s Act says the person occupying the post can serve up to the age of seventy years, if the National Assembly desires. The Contractor-General can also apply to bring in persons who can aid in the functioning of the office, and these persons can be public officers on secondment from the Public Service.

We suggest to the PM that if it is so that honorable people who are qualified for the job are shying away, the likely problem is corruption in his government, not a section of the Act. It is so bad in the UDP that the BNTU had to push the PM against a wall and force him to agree to sign on to the UNCAC.

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Deshawn Swasey

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