By Louis Wade
According to the Belize Constitution, the word “Government” speaks to three separate branches; the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislative Branch. Government can be seen, then, as a three legged stool; each leg is separate, but all are working together to hold up the entire structure.
In Government, some power is distributed to each branch by distributing various functions so that no one branch has all the power; none making all decisions. One branch may stall or even stop another branch from carrying out an activity; that branch must either find another way, or must give up that pursuit.
This is how the separation of powers helps to produce a check and balance on behalf of the people. It ensures that one branch of government does not abuse the people with the very power given to it. When the three branches function together, the people are speaking and acting, and will benefit. The nation moves forward in an agreed direction. This is democracy.
In Thailand the Constitutional Court of that country has declared that the Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, needs to remove herself from office along with nine cabinet ministers due to corruption. She abused her power by transferring a senior civil servant in 2011 to another position just to benefit her family. The decision is not without controversy as any Branch can abuse its power, but the action also speaks to separation of powers and the ability, in some jurisdictions, for the Judicial Branch to make such a pronouncement.
In Belize when we say “government” most of the time we are really talking about an “administration” or the Executive branch which, coincidentally, also has the majority of seats in the Legislative Branch. Our very use of the word “government” shows that we recognize that there is NO true balance of power between the three branches in Belize because we use it almost exclusively to describe the Executive arm; the Prime Minister and his Cabinet. Many do admit that the Executive and the Legislature are inseparable; that there has been a merger of the two.
On the streets it is known that if the Prime Minister really wants something done, Cabinet will approve it, it will pass through the House and Senate, and it will become law. A three legged stool is now really a two legged stool; one that cannot stand on its own to promote democracy.
We see the Judicial Branch, the Courts, as a complete and separate entity from “government”! Foreign investors in Belize understand the implications even better than we do. Big oil and Big Cruise Tourism know the power of a “Government’s ‘Go Ahead’” even when a matter is still in the Courts or heading there! When investors give the impression that they have “Government’s full support” even while they are being taken to Court they are alluding to the lack of true separation of powers. Many times the project has not even reached the Legislative Branch, much less the Judicial Branch! What exactly do they mean by “Government’s full support”? Does it not mean that they do understand that we have a deformed democracy, one they can ride all the way to the bank?
The Caribbean Court of Justice was clear in its decision with regards to the Secret Accommodation Agreement surrounding Belize Telemedia Limited. Two malignant tumours exists, and are growing in Small Caribbean States. One was Prime Ministerial governance, the other was a paucity of checks and balances in government. For some this may be a hard pill to swallow as in Belize we love to play political games; to compare one political party with the other; have one political party coming out more righteous than the other on critical issues. But the CCJ pronouncement is clear; small states across the Caribbean and across political lines are enamoured with prime ministerial governance and lack of checks and balances.
Let’s face it. Our Administrations hate checks and balance, they have little regard for separation of powers. Our die-hard political flag-waving supporters of those who are in power hate it too. God forbid they cannot have their way! They cannot imagine someone with, what they perceive to be, more power than them! They don’t see it as a different power, a check on unbridled power for their own safety and protection! Surely our politicians love a system of prime ministerial governance where everything the executive branch says, goes.
But in a mature democracy, such a thought is inconceivable. Gridlock and check and balance is a feature of the democratic process. A vibrant democracy thrives on mutual respect, debate and COMPROMISE! In gridlock, no side can move forward until compromise is reached. COMPROMISE! Just the thought of it gives ruling parties a reflex gurgle action; for they prefer to do what they want.
So we are left with two Branches; the fused executive/legislative branch AND our courts. Our judiciary appears to be the last bastion of refuge against any administration that believes that can pass any legislation, appoint any person, write any cheque, award any contract, confiscate any property and or establish any practice such as caretakers. So off to court we go against that other leg.
Ashcroft is in Court with Telemedia, SATIIM is in court with Capital Oil, the BAA is in court with the Castro checks, COLA is in Court with the Penner Scandal, PUP is in Court with Elections and Boundaries, BTIA is going to Court on the NCL matter. Now five mothers are going to court against KHMH, The Pharmacy Association and PSU says to court they go against Ministry of Health, and the Cotton Tree Village Council heads to court on issues of Land. You can add the rest but you get the point.
A two legged stool takes tremendous time, energy and money to keep standing upright.
The real thing must be more efficient and cost effective. A three-legged stool can stand on its own but can a two legged stool? In only a matter of time it will surely fall.