Features

Time to clean House

Is it possible that we Belizeans who actually believe that our area representatives go to parliament to take care of the People’s Business are probably the most naïve and unrealistic dreamers within this country? 

Certainly, we are mistaken if we expect discussions and serious debates on how to ensure the welfare of the Belizean people is improved.

We are most likely very foolish to have expected some degree of concerns to be raised over the fact that the first quarter Gross Domestic Product (GDP) figures for Belize showed a decline. It is likely that we are utterly naïve to think that some part of the discussion would have been on making sure that the rest of the years’ GDP figures do not follow the way of the first quarter.

One would think that with so much apprehension from members of the public over the Norwegian deal, especially as it relates to the proposed US$7.00 head tax and the supposed 57 percent kick back to the investors, that these “honourable” men would have at least taken some time to quell some of those lingering fears.

Wouldn’t that have been a good stage to address those who believe that Belize has agreed to too low of a head tax?

Wasn’t that a good stage for the government to say that compared to other regions in the Caribbean, Belize isn’t that far off.

In some jurisdictions, head tax is as low as zero dollars, while others have head tax of $5.00 or less. So far, at least according to 2007 figures, Bermuda is the jurisdictions with the highest head tax of US$60. Needless to say that this paper has been reliably informed that although it’s a 2007 list, there hasn’t been much changes to those head tax figures.

It may not have been, however, the right stage to respect the trepidations of the Belizean people to at the very least let them know that in terms of the total US$7.00 we are not  that badly off.

However, some still rightly question the alleged US$4.00 kickback to the investors.

Ten write-offs of more than $160,000

The House meeting has essentially become a smoke-and-mirrors game. Let’s take into account the fact that a pivotal part of the business of the House on Wednesday was the write-off of ten outstanding bills due to the public.

While many of them are practical and reasonable cancellations of debt, did anyone notice or decide to debate or even argue over the fact that several of those write-offs were for public officers who were found guilty of either misappropriation of funds or negligence?

Let’s take, for example, the $32,000 write-off for a Coast Guard patrol commander who was found guilty of negligence in 2009, when one of the Belize Coast Guard vessels went missing. That debt was written off and the document presented to the House says the matter was “never dealt with”.

Then there is the $33, 610 write-off for an immigration officer who, according to the motion paper, was arrested and charged in 2004 “with false accounting in relation to the misappropriation of funds at the Immigration Department … the police reported that a thorough audit was done and revealed that $33,610 was unaccounted for.”

Those charges were later withdrawn on the advice of the Accountant and Auditor General, with the concurrence  of the Ministry of Finance.

The list goes on; however, it should be deemed utterly appalling that this so-called “strong” opposition didn’t even find the time to question the validity of some these write-offs. No, it was business as usual on both sides: the incumbent grandstands and the opposition plays along with the you-did-what-when political mileage game.

The Public Accounts Committee

Regarding the Public Accounts Committee’s chairman’s motion to restructure that committee in such a way that would allow for it to function more efficiently, it is unfortunate that the model that lends itself to increased transparency was rejected based on pure technicalities, without any indication from the government as to whether or not they support the objectives of the motion, even if its presentation was procedurally flawed.

There was proposition from even the leader of the opposition that, if the incumbent at least agrees with the objective function of the motion, both sides could and should work together to correct the technical flaws to, in the end, achieve the restructured PAC and increased transparency and accountability.

But no such civility can be expected. Instead, that portion of House business took the boisterous nature of these representatives’ misbehaviour in parliament to its nadir: even the Speaker of the House literally had to resort to shouting at the member for Cayo South, who—in all fairness—was speaking out of turn.

But this all-time low “miss-behaviour” was crowned by the minister alluding to his knowledge about representative Mrs. Dolores Balderamos’ husband, after she had attempted to raise a concern about the conduct of the Sergeant of Arms (Mace Bearer).

The extent of our transparency and accountability

Belizeans, we are continuously served a platter of nonsense and disgusting conventions of inter-party mudslinging in this “honourable” House that rarely serves as meaningful debate that leads to any real discussion on our development as a people.

Yet, there are those of us who will clap and cheer for these thirty-one jesters, who spews  others’ past misdeeds in an attempt to try and convince us that either side is more immaculate than the other. Wish them good luck with that!

But, beyond the embarrassment that this is, what is equally saddening is the fact that what is exposed in the House is the extent of our Transparency and Accountability in this country. That is atrocious.

This session’s back and forth began with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ)’s ruling that has found the actions of the Musa administrations in a 2005 Settlement Deed to be “illegal, null and void”.

You would think that judgment would have said enough, but it provided too irresistible for the prime minister and the opposition’s member for Fort George Hon. Said Musa to miss a chance to waste our precious time with their usual “you-worse-than-me” fights.

The only reason, as far as Belizeans should be concerned, that this issue should have been allowed to gobble up any more time in the House was if we would have heard that someone was going to be penalized (whether it be removal from office or jail time) over this. But, if that is not the case, why waste our time?

If this is, again, the extent of our transparency and accountability, then woe are we Belizeans, because this will not end. The poor shall remain poor, and the well-off shall remain well off, while the masses sing and dance to the comical cadence that we’ve become too accustomed to.

We will continue to hear of corruption in government and we shall continue to see these men walk freely and with impunity among us. When the PUP is in power we will hear of corruption; when the UDP is in power we will hear of corruption.

That is a fact that will not be ameliorated to any degree until the Belizean people begin to demand in large numbers that proper transparency and accountability structures be put in place.

The solution has to be improved structures. Even in the Vatican there is corruption, and, according to one Reuters article, the Pope has decided on Thursday this week to beef up the supervision of the Vatican’s Bank. Nowhere is immune to vices of human nature.

Reflection on  us

    as Belizeans

Hon. Wilfred Elrington said in the House Wednesday that Belizeans should be “ashamed” having elected members of the PUP, especially considering what had resulted from the CCJ ruling.

Elrington is right. Although his comments should not have been limited to only 14 members; it should encompass all 31 area representatives in the House.

If the rowdiness and the political-mileage-building talk is blatantly the preference of these men, and we repeatedly rotate them in and out of office, then to some degree we do need to check ourselves as members of the electorate.

Honestly, Belizeans, ask yourselves this question: If no one will be held accountable for all the dirt that is flung around in that House—and they should be held accountable—why else would they bring it up and spend so much time on it, except for political mileage?

If Musa and Fonseca did something against the law, why are they not before the courts being taken to task for their actions, instead of wasting precious time, when there is still a 14 percent unemployment rate in this country?

     The Belizean 

    shareholders

Picture the country of Belize as a large company and every one of our approximately 330,000 people are shareholders in this company. The members of the House of Representatives function then as our board of directors.

In the last report from the Statistical Institute of Belize, your company showed a drop in output of about 0.5%. As you know, if the company isn’t doing well, this directly affects your “dividends”.

The board of directors then has a responsibility to their shareholders to make sure that this company is doing everything legally possible to address that decline to keep the shareholders happy and well-off.

Apart from the decline in output, there are some serious health-department related concerns; if labor is treated as a factor of production, 14 percent of this key component is under-utilized; certain assets were lost or stolen, and it was written off without much explanation; the company thankfully doesn’t have to pay US$44 million that came out of a dubious and illegal deal, but yet the former board chair that was responsible for that shady deal is still on the board; the company is plagued by news of corruption and malfeasance, but the incumbent chairman rejects a proposal based on technicalities, without indicating any interest in fixing the procedural mistakes so as to attain the desired objective of more transparency and accountability; and the list goes on.

Looking at it as shareholders in this company, shouldn’t we become seriously concerned about the members of our board?

We ought to demand one of two things: they should shape up or ship out.

In the name of democracy

This is a democracy. The word is a fusion of two Greek words: “Demos” and “Kratia”. The former means “common people” and the latter is “rule or strength”.

According to etymology, democracy “implies that the man must take the responsibility for choosing his rulers and representatives, and for the maintenance of his own ‘rights’ against the possible and probable encroachments of the government which he has SANCTIONED to act for him in public matters.”

In this winner-takes-all electoral system, the concept of majority rule is somewhat questionable, because of the 178,054 registered voters, only 64, 976 voted for the incumbent. 113078 voted either for the People’s United Party (61,832), for a third party, or simply did not participate in the process (51,246).

If what we see don’t reflect the definition of democracy, then we need to start demanding more of our leaders, in terms of their attention to our business and less of their own. It’s time we clean House.

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