Belizean Politics poisonous to true development

On Wednesday, August 21, 2013, Syria’s two-year civil war came to possibly its lowest point yet, when Syrian President Bashar al-Asaad launched a chemical weapon attack against his own people—rebels and civilians alike.

The chemical gas, known as Sarin, brought about masscre-level results, causing the deaths of more than 1400 civilians, with over 400 of them being children.

President Obama, in his address to his nation on Tuesday night,  summarized the pre and post events that have convinced him of Asaad’s culpability, and then said:

“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. … a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, and embolden Assad’s ally, Iran — which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon, or to take a more peaceful path.”

Based on those facts (and probably more), he said:  “I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.”

The US President, since the chemical attack, has been adamant in this campaign for a military strike; however, this Ripple Effect has zeroed in on a specific statement in his Tuesday night address:

Even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believe it was right …to take this debate to Congress.

“I believe our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress. And I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.”

The result of his waiting

The US president is often hailed as the most “powerful” person in the world in a political sense. Obama’s executive powers–based on certain international norms and conventions–gives him the authority to have intervened in the Syrian crisis. But he obviously opted to take a more democratic route.

It is said that “wisdom is known by her children.” The fruits of a decision are the true determinants of whether or not that choice was indeed the best.

Obama’s preference for democracy in this urgent matter has produced an interesting fruit: a potentially diplomatic solution that wouldn’t require a military strike.

Enter Russia. Following a statement (which some labeled as a gaffe) from the US Secretary of State, Russian President Vlademir Putin has offfered to confiscate Syria’s chemical weapons, under the supervision and inspection of possibly United Nation (UN) officials.

Syria’s president, who up until that point had neither confirmed nor denied his regime’s possession of chemical weapons, has agreed to the Russian-UN plan.

Obama, in response to the most recent development, has then decided to postpone taking the matter to Congress for a vote; the world in essence is now waiting to see what transpires with the diplomatic option.

Political Animals–international stage

Okay, now this US-UN-Russia-Syria matter is obviously being played out on the stage of international politics, and while a war in Syria may, for example, have some ripple effects on oil prices, Belize is relatively a non-factor in the war between these political and economic elephants.

But what the Syria story lacks in direct impact to Belize, it makes up for by being an excellent object lesson as to the need for real politics over the personality politics played here in Belize.

It has been said that we are all political animals to one degree, because no one should or could have monopolistic knowledge on how best the scarce resources within a country can be used.

Obama (and those who agrees with him) saw a strike as the optimum, if not the only, way to deal with Asaad’s actions. Who would have guessed that as the debate and negotiations progressed that the Russian president would have had a role to play other than being Syria’s military backup?

Interestingly enough, Russia’s congruence to the potential remedy comes at a time in which US-Russian relations are on icy grounds, especially after Russia granted NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum.

And this brings the need for proper politics clear to the forefront, because Obama’s option to take the matter to a Republican-controlled Congress bought sufficient time for other players to interject and provide alternative uses of their resources.

Domestic stage

But even when we descend from international to domestic politics, the reality continues to be the same: resources continue be scarce and there’s hardly ever 100% agreement on how those resources are to be used.

For example, the recent Norwegian Cruise Line deal, according to government and NCL, promises  several “good” things, chief among them being jobs. However, members of the tourism industry obviously have taken issue with the sudden shift from Belize as an eco-friendly destination to a mass-cruise-tourism port.

Of course, within the mix of the NCL project there are the objections of the environmentists who worry that the move to mass instead of pocket tourism will adersely affect the environment.

That’s just one issue. We have many others, including the Belize City Council’s moves to stop city buses from moving along downtown Albert Street; the ongoing to-drill-or-not-to-drill fight between GOB and environmentalists; the disagreement over the Public Accounts Committee’s temporal mandate; and the list goes on.

Regardless of what the issues are, the fact remains that people will have differing views because there will always be opportunity costs. Making the decision to use a given resource in a certain way means that it will not be available (at least while it’s in use) for another, possibly equally viable, alternative.

This type of thing could easily lead to people losing their jobs, businesses failing, pollution, or worse.

Let’s take, for example, the council’s decision to demand that bus companies use smaller buses on the city’s streets. It is a practical decision considering the size of the city’s streets, but it comes at a cost to the bus owners, who may or may not have taken out loans to purchase those buses in the first place.

Another example could be seen when the City Council literally went grave digging, kicking undertakers like David Coye out of the graveyard business.

No such omniscience here

Everything comes with a cost. “There’s no free lunch,” economists would say. But those costs are not always so clear.

An economy is an intricately woven system. Often times all the key players are not  as conspicuous as we would think, and all the relevant factors to be considered are not as evident. So, then, is it possible for just one (maybe well-intentioned) group to make all the best decisions?

Let’s ask a late a late 80’s-early-90’s Russia about that.

There attempt at operating a planned economy failed, because it was relatively impossible for one entity–the government–to keep abreast of all the essential economic information.

It was the victory a more capitalist-friendly system that would allow the players within the economy to make decisions in their best interests. Of course, these activities need to be regulated properly, otherwise we could relive another crash like what happened with the US mortgage industry and investment bank about five years ago.

While this isn’t a case for increased capitalism, it is a reminder that one group has all the necessary information to make decisions unilaterally and expect long-term and sustainable results for the majority.

No one group could have all that power

If information is power, then it’s probably safe to sort of quote West: “No one ‘group” could have all that power!”

Like with Obama’s position with Syria, which only identified a military strike as the solution other data informed a potentially more amicable approach, many decisions made within this country could have benefitted from a political system that was more open to consultations.

What wisdom is there behind a government’s continuous decision to make decisions within a vacuum, boxing out the relevant stakeholders?

Why was it that the Belize Tourism Industry Association had to resort to an open letter to express their frustration about the NCL decision?

Ever since its initial announcement, industry stakeholders have found one concern after the other with the NCL initiative.

But instead of consultation, we get comments like:

“Except Norwegian, when it comes to doing the legally binding agreement, decides not to play ball in terms of our non-negotiable conditions…this thing is on. So if there are still people with reservations…get over it.” (prime minister Dean O. Barrow, media interview on Monday, September 2, 2013)

Or comments like:

“They will have a little demonstration here on Saturday but that will soon pass. That will blow over just like a little breeze.” (former prime minister, Said Musa, Channel7News interview, 2004)

And then, we wonder why growth in Belize has been what it is.

No room for long-term growth

As long as the two principal political parties in Belize continue to behave like “cats and dogs”, and avoid sensible debates, the country will struggle to achieve sustainable growth.

The recent developments in the Public Accounts Committee has once again demonstrated the infantility of the Belizean politics that appears to be more focused on political egos or ambitions over the interest of the Belizean people.

If Belize is going to development sustainably, there is need for all stakehoders, including those of differing political views, to sit at the table and maturely debate matters.

Here’s a question that all Belizeans should be asking: “If all developments are ‘for the people’, why not include them all in the process?”

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