Sun. Aug. 13, 2023
There are major issues, both national and global, that should be of serious concern to Belizeans, and for which the opportunity of a House of Representatives meeting could be very useful if members of both political parties were inclined to discuss, and thus enlighten their fellow citizens about, the challenges we are facing as a nation and how best we can prepare ourselves to meet those challenges. These include surging inflation, a spinoff from military conflicts involving major world powers; impending threats of increased major hurricanes associated with fast-paced global warming; disease problems that have been plaguing our citrus and shrimp industries for some time, and the prospect of our marine coral communities that form the base of our productive Barrier Reef system soon being under serious threat from bleaching disease in the region. There have been too many incidents of house fires with lives sometimes being lost, as impoverished families remain vulnerable due to improper electrical connections or use of candles for home lighting; young lives continue to be lost to gun violence at an alarming rate with no end in sight as guns seem to be plentiful in the hands of youths and even children; the plight of our hardworking stevedores remains a concern as they seek citizens’ assistance in meeting the costs for their legal defense against the multi-millionaire owners of Port of Belize Limited; fatal road accidents continue at an alarming rate, with young children being frequent victims; our cane farmers up north remain engaged in an uphill battle for fair dealings with the foreign-owned ASR/BSI milling company; hunger is real for those unemployed citizens who live on handouts, which are harder to come by as everyone is pinching their pennies, with even plantains now going for $1.50 for a big one; as homes become more stressed in these inflationary times, domestic violence is on the rise, and sexual crimes as well … There is so, so much more that we need to talk seriously about together as a people to try and create a collective effort to address some of these problems plaguing our nation. A calming, inspiring and firm voice of leadership is what the people need. And when the elected members of our House of Representatives sit down together with the whole nation watching and listening, what better time for us all to zero in on these big and serious issues with a mind to find solutions and resolutions as a people going forward? Alas, much of the time spent at last Friday’s sitting of the House was dealing with petty PUDP politics.
The nature of our political democracy in Belize seems to be that the opposition party is supposed to oppose the party in government at every opportunity. It is an adversarial arrangement that we have inherited, and it has its usefulness, like in our courts, where the prosecution presents its case, and it is the job of the defense lawyer to try and punch holes in the prosecution’s argument, so that at the end of the day, justice is served, and the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty, whether the case is determined by a jury or a single judge. But, too often it seems, our opposition (defense) is inclined to go to extreme lengths, as in the recent instance where the Leader of the Opposition (which controls a mere 16% of the seats in the House) had the mendacity to propose a motion for a “Vote of No Confidence” in the Prime Minister, a totally futile exercise from the outset, even if the current PUP government was in a very unpopular stage of its administration, which it is not. Sadly, it is a ploy also used in the past by the PUP when they were in Opposition, although they chose to make their grandstand challenge when the UDP was in a very unpopular period. But, regardless, futile it was, as not even a groundswell of popular anti-government demonstrations and national strikes could have such an impact on government in our parliamentary system, and the most it could hope to achieve is a possible early election. “No confidence” in a prime minister is a matter for the majority members in the House to determine, not the Opposition.
So, it was bad enough that Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Shyne Barrow saw this “no confidence” ploy as a strategic political tool to energize his UDP party faithfuls and give them something to chant about as they launch their campaign drive to the 2025 general elections with a big national party convention today, Sunday, August 13. But the ruling party, the PUP, did not have to give Shyne’s publicity stunt the amount of attention they did. Moreover, their apparent knee-jerk response of rehashing the 11th Amendment Bill, which seeks to discharge Shyne from the House, could likely serve to stimulate the sympathy of wary independent voters who might identify with the reform narrative that Shyne is reportedly capitalizing on with a supposed documentary to be produced by some of his friends in the American media.
The tragedy for many Belizeans tuning in on radio and T.V. to last Friday’s House Meeting, is that too much time was spent in heckling and name-calling and insults surrounding the issue of the Opposition’s bombastic call for a “vote of no confidence” in Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño; while P.M. Briceño and some of his PUP government colleagues felt obligated to respond in kind by pursuing the 11th Amendment Bill and indulging in personal criticisms of the Opposition Leader. If it was Shyne’s political ploy to “get under the skin” of P.M. Briceño and the PUP, he was perhaps marginally successful. Certainly, as dismal as the UDP has looked in the preceding weeks and months, ever since their utter shellacking at the polls in 2020, the petty “no confidence” exercise did gain them some attention, and the image of the Opposition Leader was enhanced, both by his “suit down” appearance and his eloquence in demonstrating his familiarity with the House Standing Orders. And the PUP, who really had nothing to gain by taking the Opposition Leader’s motion attempt seriously, may have lost a little bit of their luster by allowing themselves to be drawn into the name-calling and insult business, and thus perhaps reminding some independent-minded voters of the “bad old days” of another PUP administration, which should be a creature of the past.
Now that the UDP convention is behind us, along with their idle talk of “no confidence” in P.M. John Briceño; and also, now that the PUP has satisfied their appetite for retaliation with the 2nd reading of the 11th Amendment Bill in the House, which is a matter that should be left to the People’s Constitutional Commission; hopefully, our next House Meeting can move to a higher ground. With so many big issues on the minds of the Belizean people, including the ICJ matter looming over our collective heads, our political leaders, both blue and red, need to “stop it.” Celebrations are near, and there is a time for everything; but we cannot afford to waste precious time with petty distractions when the whole nation is focused on what you have to report on the business of their government. Let’s have better statesmanship and sober discussion of issues in our House, elected members. These are some very serious times, and you all need to set a better example for our youth who have been going astray.