When present Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Senator Godwin Hulse, was a regular person, meaning he did not have the title, “honorable,” he taught us that in our governance system the vote of the person who sits in the Prime Minister’s office is not more weighty than that of any of the other 30 members in the House of Representatives (H of R). We interpreted that to mean that we cannot lay all the blame for failures on — or give all the credit/glory for successes to — the person who holds the highest office in the land.
It is true that the leader of government doesn’t deserve ALL the blame/praise, but leaders’ share in our success/failure is not SMALL. The majority of candidates for office are handpicked by the big players in the political parties, and most of them are in the service of the person at the head. Individual candidates do themselves well if they have charisma and a little success story under their belt, and some of them are actually powerhouses, but for the most part the leader of the party projects beyond their division.
In the next general election, the face of the party leader will be plastered on the banners and signboards beside the party’s candidates in many of the constituencies. A popular leader can work wonders for weaklings. In his heyday it was said of Hon. George Price that if he ran a mule in some divisions, the mule would win. You bet that mule would know whom to serve if the party won.
Another thing Mr. Hulse taught us when he was a civilian, was that the integrity of the 31 individuals in government might depend more on the system than their individual character. Mr. Hulse, who at times has been a talk show host, and who at times has invested his energies in organizations that were about proposing reforms to improve our governance, told us that it was his mission to improve our system of governance so that we didn’t have to worry so much about the human frailties of the individuals who won seats in the H of R. The improved system would not allow them to mess up.
In a recent sitting of the Senate, the Attorney General, Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, for his own reasons, declared that 13 appointed representatives (in the Senate) cannot trump 31 elected representatives in the House. The Attorney General’s purpose aside, the Senate is an oversight body, an important part of the “check and balance” in the system to make sure it functions properly. The Senate cannot override the government, but the body in its design has teeth, mighty big teeth, teeth of which any government that loves corruption or dictatorship has to be wary.
The body has not functioned in Belize the way it evolved in the United Kingdom. In Belize, the Senate has been just a talk show, and serious reformists have clamored for the body to get its teeth. It could have been for love of Belize, could have been, why a beleaguered People’s United Party (PUP) proposed an elected senate and put it to a referendum in the 2008 general election. The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) countered with an extra senator, a 13th member, and the effect of this, if properly executed, would put the big choppers in the Senate’s mouth.
A senate that is functioning properly has the power to open a thorough investigation into any suspected malfeasance of the government. We know the UDP won the election. We know they delayed on the 13th senator until the teachers of Belize got fed up with their deceit and forced them to deliver on their promise. We know what the UDP did to dilute the ink used to sign the 13th senator into law.
The words of the Attorney General, Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, are not entirely without weight. Appointees do not have the power of elected representatives. The reform agent turned Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Senator Godwin Hulse, is an appointee, not an elected representative. That is why we can only singe his feet, not burn it, for being a part of a government that has sucked the spunk out of every oversight body in our governance system.
When he was in opposition, our present leader told us that he had a sharp double-edged machete and if we gave him the chance to lead the government he would weed out corruption. When he got the job he realized that corruption will always be with us, so he exchanged the special machete for dental forceps which he has used to extract teeth from the institutions the architects of the parliamentary democracy system set up to prevent corrupt practices.
The UDP, in government over 11 consecutive years, has not made ONE institution stronger than they found it. The Public Accounts Committee is dead. The Senate now has a 13th senator, but somehow the government ended up with seven senators instead of six. The government can’t find a Contractor General who doesn’t entertain hopes of getting a top job in the Public Service down the road. The UDP had trouble finding persons to sit on the Integrity Commission. The persons they sought to fill the posts were all so rich they couldn’t afford to have their finances published. The UDP scoffed at reform of the registration system. What a tragedy!
Mr. Hulse was not alone in his views that we’re having troubles with our present system. There are many who blame our system, parliamentary democracy, for our failures. There are many who believe that we need to dump it and adopt a republican-type system instead. They might be right in the suggestion that the republican system is better, but the argument cannot be made that we need to change parliamentary democracy because it has failed. The fact is that we have not yet tried it, not sincerely.
Mr. Hulse’s argument that the system makes the man is not a falsehood, but the greater truth is that leaders of sound character and great capacity make a good system. The republican system, which is a limited form of dictatorship, has worked well in the United States of America, and miserably in some other countries. The fact is that if the president is capable and moral, there is good government, and if the president is immoral and incompetent there is bad government.
Hon. Michael Finnegan is one who has offered that our system puts pressure on area representatives, and under the strain some representatives break. Mr. Finnegan has said that people come to representatives for assistance on myriad economic issues, and sometimes area representatives will enter grey areas, become corrupt, to deliver what their constituents want.
What Belize needs most are good leaders. Anyone who says we get the leaders we deserve is not seeing straight. We get the people the two main political parties put forward. The fault is in the selection process. There are many super-talented, very honest Belizeans, but many of the candidates these parties put forward are pedestrian. Who are these people that these two big political parties are trotting out for the next general election?
The truth is that our leaders haven’t shown the competence to deliver on the promises they make to the people. They fail because of incompetence and corruption, and then they make the excuse that the people make demands. The people only demand what they have been promised. To deliver on promises you have to be competent, and have character. Our problem is the persons we elect to office. We must look very closely at these people these parties are putting up to lead us. They should have capacity and character.