We can never know how far the political party, VIP (Vision Inspired by the People), would have gone in electoral politics if Belize had laws to control how political parties and their candidates get financing for elections, but it is for sure that the party would have done better at the polls had such laws existed, even though it is very unlikely they would have won, because of the great advantage the two major parties — PUP (People’s United Party) and UDP (United Democratic Party), enjoy through our First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system. The VIP was spot-on when it demanded and gave no quarter about the necessity for campaign financing laws in Belize.
At a recent press conference, the Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, who has been the Maximum Leader of Belize for 12 consecutive years, said that it was to his “chagrin” that Belize doesn’t have campaign financing laws. The PM was discussing claims by a confessed American fraudster that Hon. John Saldivar had accepted money from an accused fraudster who was trying to acquire some form of diplomatic status from Belize. Saldivar at the time was a powerful Minister in the UDP government and one of two candidates for the leadership post in the UDP.
The Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Hugo Patt, gave us a lesson on how Belizean politicians go about financing their political campaigns when he spoke to News5 last week. Patt said: “… solicitation for campaign financing is part of all political parties, not only in Belize but in the entire globe … whenever you meet individuals … particularly when you meet foreigners, you don’t know what their background is. You would think that these are genuine people so that whenever you get any kind of assistance for campaign purposes we go by basically what we are being told, or if we do a background check in Belize, many times we would (find) that these individuals have not had any kinds of incidents in country. I think in the case of John it was very unfortunate, he so happened to be sponsored by people who were doing illicit …”
Digressing momentarily, we want it on the record that we don’t take kindly to the way Hon. Patt conducted himself when speaking with KREM’s excellent news editor, Ms. Marisol Amaya, last week. From a single constituency, one of 31, Patt, with 54% of the votes in Corozal North, has been elevated to the post of deputy prime minister of this country. If he emerges as leader of the UDP, and the country chooses him as prime minister, he has to know that not even that exalted position gives him license for the kind of behavior he exhibited in Belmopan.
We are used to ruling politicians being hostile toward the media, particularly toward us from Partridge Street; we expect them, however, to be civil when addressing female members of our organization. Call us old school. The UDP has a number of women on their ticket, but we have noticed that this is a party that has become very disrespectful toward women.
Returning to our main story, the PM, who had much power to get things done these past twelve years, said he was disappointed that we don’t have campaign financing laws. Campaign financing laws are not a wheel he had to invent, so we have to wonder about his lapse.
Belize inherited its system of governance, parliamentary democracy, from the British. They have had campaign financing laws since 1883. The Library of Congress, at the website loc.gov/law/help/campaign-finance, says “Legislation to prevent excessive spending by electoral candidates in the UK has been in place since the Corrupt and Illegal Practices Prevention Act 1883 … Donations over £5,000 (approximately US$7,000) to the main political party offices, or over £1,000 (approximately US$1,400) to constituency or local party offices, are required to be reported to the Electoral Commission.”
The USA, another fine democracy like the United Kingdom, started putting in campaign financing laws from as far back as 1867. The US Federal Election Commission, at the website transition.fec.gov, says US campaign financing laws, “limit contributions to ensure that wealthy individuals and special interest groups did not have a disproportionate influence on Federal elections; prohibit certain sources of funds for Federal campaign purposes; control campaign spending; and require public disclosure of campaign finances to deter abuse and to educate the electorate.”
The 1900s passed Belize by; we are one-fifth of the way through the 21st century and our politicians are still hustling money from every corner to finance their campaigns, and to do everything else that they think of, including lining their pockets. Belizean politicians engage in corrupt practices, very unethical and costly to the nation, but politicians keep getting off the hook because where there are laws they are not enforced, and when it comes to campaign financing, there aren’t any laws.
It was all grand, as lucrative as the best Ponzi schemes, with almost every Belizean politician who chose to run, with shady characters at home and abroad dipping into the stacks of cash held by the underworld, until the “very unfortunate” case of John, who “so happened to be sponsored by people who were doing illicit …”
When the VIP contested the general elections in 2008, point #12 of its 15-point reform manifesto said that if the party was successful at the polls it would, “enact stiff campaign finance laws to regulate the financing of political campaigns.” The VIP’s leaders, Messrs. Paul Morgan, Hubert Enriquez, and Bobby Lopez, never wavered from this position. The party has contested municipal elections, primarily in Belmopan, and has had members contest general elections in 2008 and 2012. The party did not contest the 2015 general election.
The leader of the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), Mr. Patrick Rogers, contested the 2008 general election on the VIP ticket, and he and some of the BPP’s members contested the 2015 general election on the party’s ticket. Rogers, like Morgan, Enriquez, and Lopez, insists on campaign financing laws. Both parties routinely published the names of persons and organizations that contributed to their campaigns to win office.
Our politicians have had a run which has been pleasant for themselves but embarrassing to us; causing us financial pain, but enriching themselves. Belize’s politicians accepting money all over the place, from shady local characters, and from devious foreigners, landed us in disgrace in the US — our name “gone abroad” in the television news and newspaper pages in that country.
If we had campaign financing laws, as the VIP and the BPP called for, this generation of UDP and PUP politicians, PUDP, would have had to step with a lot more care. As it is said, better late than never. The PUP announced recently that the party will push for campaign financing laws, and one of the candidates who ran for leadership of the UDP on February 9, Hon. Patrick Faber, has also indicated that he supports it.
Since our UDP and PUP politicians now know that we are totally fed up with the way they have taken advantage of our people and country, we don’t expect any backtracking here.