There are some good Belizeans, men and women, who are held in high esteem as people of integrity and sound human values; but a problem for them is that they have become steeped in the game of politics, to the point where their major focus is on winning elections, and this can sometimes erode certain basic principles and lead them to overlook pledges and promises made to the people before elections. And an even bigger problem with this singular drive for winning, is that it makes politicians in government vulnerable to the overtures and influence of astute and ruthless businessmen whose financial greed is paramount, and which impels them to push the political buttons of government leaders by providing needed finances in order to see their particular business goals accomplished. The word “bribery” may not apply, because, despite pre-election pledges, there are still no campaign financing legislations in place in Belize, and contributions are seldom personal in natureAs the economic climate fluctuates, and the next general election season slowly draws near, there will be temptation and pressure put upon the current administration by one Lord Michael Ashcroft to see his Port of Belize/Waterloo Cruise Tourism project approved. Campaign financing is a determining factor in winning elections, and depending on the state of the economy and government finances when those elections are near, the incumbent PUP government may be put under intense pressure, and be subject to almost irresistible enticements of the Lord to see his Waterloo project become reality. If such a situation develops, it will be vital for P.M. Briceno and his PUP government to keenly assess the pulse of the Belizean populace, or it may turn out that Ashcroft’s Waterloo may also become Briceno’s and the PUP’s.
As hard times, aggravated by global events, descend into survival crises for masses of poor Belizeans, many will instinctively seek answers, explanations and relief from the economic quagmire, but mostly they will look for scapegoats — something, or preferably someone, to blame as the main cause of their terrible situation. The traditional target of their frustration is the government of the day. That’s just the way it is in politics. And where there is crisis for some, there are opportunities for others. It doesn’t help the government’s image with the impoverished masses that its declared commitment once elected to install a $5.00 minimum wage, has after almost two years in office, turned out to now require a feasibility study by a hired consultant. Other controversial issues may crop up, PSU matters, for example, to slowly erode the PUP’s popularity at the polls.
As 2023 approaches, the political party wheels will begin turning ever more swiftly, and when the water gets rough, the predators tend to feed. A seemingly weak opposition can suddenly appear strong and vibrant with proper financing, and the bargaining chip of business interests becomes more a factor in the making and execution of government policies. And it is precisely at this juncture that the Belizean people need to remain focused on the moves by the big players in the game, which is all about winning in politics.
While P.M. Briceno and his other PUP representatives are becoming more concerned with winning the next elections, there is this big elephant in the room intent on achieving its own goals. Fortified by his billions, a battery of expensive, top-flight local and international lawyers, Mr. Ashcroft is undeterred in conflicts against local individuals or governments, because even when it seems he has lost in a lower court — a rare occurrence because often his lawyers have helped to draft the very laws whose loopholes they navigate — he will promptly appeal to a higher court, whatever the cost, all the way to the Privy Council, or later the CCJ. The sheer cost of litigation soon renders his legal opponents/victims, prostrate due to their inability to sustain the costs of legal representation. Nobody seeks a quarrel with Ashcroft.
Such is the quality of customer that our maximum leader has to deal with. Not only is Mr. Ashcroft by far the wealthiest man in Belize, but the British billionaire is also a published author, having just written his twelfth book in March of this year, and a number of his biographical subjects are prominent in the political arena, to which he is particularly attracted. His favorite interest seems to be a blend of business and politics. His latest book, First Lady: Intrigue at the Court of Carrie and Boris Johnson (the same Boris Johnson who recently announced his impending resignation from his post as British prime minister) says, “About the author (2022) — Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is an international businessman, philanthropist, author and pollster. He is a former treasurer and deputy chairman of the Conservative Party…”
“Pollster”? (Webster’s Dictionary – one that conducts a poll or compiles data obtained by a poll.) That sounds like a most useful tool in elections, which politicians are all concerned about winning. As strong and popular as the present John Briceno-led PUP government may seem, it should still be a concern for the Belizean people that some sources have suggested that, as suspected, Ashcroft did contribute financially and maybe otherwise to the PUP’s big success at the polls in 2020; and he will be wanting his “pound of flesh.” More than that, he could also choose to throw his “weight” behind the opposition.
It is no secret that Ashcroft’s Belize Bank has been the receiver, for almost a decade, for the Port of Belize, and that he has publicly joined all plans for undertaking necessary repairs and modernizing of the port facilities with his desire to also turn it into a modern cruise tourism facility – Waterloo. And the history of Ashcroft in Belize has been: what Ashcroft wants, Ashcroft gets. It is noteworthy, nonetheless, that there is an old Kriol saying in this little speck on the world map called Belize, that “bigga circus kohn ya and bruk up.”
There are major environmental concerns, especially with respect to our Barrier Reef, involved with realizing the planned Waterloo Cruise Port facility; but the tried and proven Ashcroft formula seems to be: money can solve every problem. So, Belize’s “Blue Bond” recently made us an international star at the UN Oceans Conference (See Amandala page 13 of Friday, July 8, 2022.) So what? Environmentalists are human and can make mistakes. He hired the best he could find in Belize and secured top flight E.I.A. consultants from abroad. So, there is a Barrier Reef concern? Well, the Department of the Environment (DOE), which gives approvals for E.I.A.’s, is a government agency, isn’t it? So, what is your problem, guys; P.M.? What do you need for us to do to get the ball rolling with this BZ $400 million investment with jobs, jobs, jobs for Belizeans? So what if the Port Coral (Stake Bank) guys think that Waterloo’s approval will spell a death knell to the viability of their project? Nonsense! The more competition, the better for all! And the more jobs!
Judging from past occurrences, Ashcroft will “wheel and come again, and again” with his E.I.A. proposals until DOE approval is achieved.
Can we see P.M. Briceno already waffling and sounding non-committal on the subject? It’s just business; and the market forces will work it out.
As the next general election season draws closer, and the pressure builds, let us pray that the Belizean economy is in a strong position, so that our P.M. does not feel weak in responding to the advances of the one Lord Ashcroft in the quest of his cruise tourism port. With Belize and P.M. Briceno currently basking in the accolades from the world environmental community, that picture could change drastically come the day that the British peer gets his way with the DOE, and then the question would be, “Whose Waterloo is it?”