John Briceño was elected the People’s Unity Party leader in a national convention on Sunday.
The victory was sweet for Briceño as he has contested and won the position twice in his political career. The first time, he contested the seat against former party leader, the Francis Fonseca, and the Mark Espat in 2008. Briceño won that round by 20 votes, but stepped down and surprised the nation with a formal resignation in 2011. The move was attributed to party division, Fonseca took over leadership of the party. Fast forward to Sunday’s convention, and some 2, 700 delegates chose Briceño as their new leader – his latest victory securing a sound victory by 203 votes.
In an interview with the Reporter Briceño spoke openly about his win, plans for the party and a PUP-led government if elected as Prime Minister.
He explained his sudden resignation in 2011, stating that while he stepped aside to give the party an opportunity to unite under a new leader, he never left the party. “Elements with the party tried to destabilize it and create problems. That led to problems with financing for the party.”
That unity remained elusive and resulted in several losses at the polls – both points that Briceño has vowed to fix. He has used the late George Price for inspiration and has quoted him liberally throughout the interview.
“I learned many things from the Father of the Nation – one being that no one is greater than the Party,” said Briceño. Having stayed and worked with the party, he remains hopeful that his colleagues have reached a point of no return. He has extended an olive branch to his peers, in the hope that they will work together in the interest of the party.
Should his plan not work as envisioned, the new leader has a plan. “The plan is a simple but difficult one.” My call to unity has been made without bias. But after a while, if there are still people within the party who want to destabilize it, it is time for them to leave.”
Briceño attributed his first time in leadership as marked by a lack of experience and intends to use a different approach this time around. This time, unloyals will be dealt with “expeditiously and transparently via the National Council.”
Briceño met with convention opponents on Tuesday to put his plan into motion. That resulted in private meetings with Francis Fonseca, Said Musa, Kareem Musa, Julius Espat, and Cordel Hyde – all of whom pledged to work with Briceño towards a united PUP. With pledges in place, the leader intends to hold all PUP members to task, to form a more energized, more productive party for the future.
To ensure major frictions don’t occur, as was the case with the G11, Briceño looks at restructuring the party. His plan is to first consult with peers, then make any necessary adjustments to ensure for effective and efficient party policies.
“The G11 was formed in order to address some areas of concern. The first was to have a national convention. That took place on Sunday. The second was to encourage more consultations.” Those concerns are still relevant today, and Briceno intends to address these issues forthwith. As an example, he noted the National Executive. He explained that prior to the convention standard bearers were invited to meetings. But he plans on changing this, only invite elected members, to voice their concerns and ideas.
Easy access to a leader is high on Briceño’s agenda, something he expressed when quoting Price. “Following in the path of George Price, he spent a lot of time meeting with the people nationwide. I did that in 2008 to 2011 when I visited almost every community in the country.” Intent to keep this tradition alive, Briceño plans a Party Leader Tour starting in March, in an effort to connect with the electorate and hear their concerns.
In communicating with the public at large, he envisions a PUP that keeps up with modern technology, making full use of Facebook, Twitter and the like – going so far as to create an app that informs the public of all the party has done and will do in the future. This communication strategy will work hand in hand with their outreach policy. “We need to reach out to everyone,” said Briceño. “We need to reach out to the NGOs, the private sector and people in order to make the best decisions for our country. Be it in education, the economy, health or infrastructure . . . it will require the best minds in the country to find a solution and create opportunities of everyone.”
In-so-far as party assets currently held in Said Musa’s name, Briceño explained that the former leader offered use of all the assets prior to Sunday’s convention. That included the use of the secretariat, headquarters, the Vibes Radio and the Belize Times Newspaper. In separate meetings with Musa and Fonseca, it was agreed that the assets would be placed in a trust. “As it is right now, we will have complete access to all the assets as a party, but the short to medium term is to put all of them into a trust that is going to be owned by the party. So that it will always be there for the leader to use.”
Future plans for the party include injecting new energy into their collective efforts. In the House Briceño envisions a team which scrutinizes all tabled policies and challenges those with flaws. That said, “We need to move away from that attitude that whatever your opponent does is bad.” He then referred to the Boost Program, a project in which his wife is involved and familiar with, as Principal of the St. Peter’s Anglican Primary School in Orange Walk. The families enrolled in the program are encouraged to keep their children in school. “Of course we need to see how we can take the politics out of it because they (UDP) politicize it. But the program itself is good.”
If elected as Prime Minister, the leader intends to focus his efforts on health, crime and education. On the matter of health, priority will be placed on primary health care, as he believes that nursing a sick person back to health costs a lot more than preventative care.
Crime and education however go hand in hand for the leader. He believes that the crime rate would be lowered if youth were to stay in school and have after-school activities to keep them occupied and positively engaged. To ensure this occurs, a policy designed to secure a primary, secondary and tertiary education would be implemented for those who want to and are capable of furthering their education.
Parenting skills also made the list of issues to tackle, as Briceño was of the opinion that discipline is now lacking in homes. “I think we have become terrible parents. As a society, we are no longer looking after children the way we did. Growing up, I could not tell my Dad that the teacher lashed me because I would get another trashing.” He suggested the boost program could be used as a tool to motivate parents and tackle hygiene issues among other parental issues.
In ending, the newly elected leader expressed his thanks to all the delegates that showed up for the national convention. “The delegates spoke and at the end of the day, we will respect their decision and we will work together to unite and move forward until we get to Belmopan.“We did well in the city. Considering everything, I say thanks to my team in the city and countrywide for the support.”