The Leader of the People’s United Party (PUP) and of the parliamentary opposition, Francis Fonseca, marked his address to the nation on Independence Day, September 21, with a call to “real, meaningful reform” in key sectors of the economy and society.
He said that even as Belize celebrates 32 years of independence from Great Britain with no great divisions in the Belizean nation, there remains the challenge of how to make our economic advances more tangible for the greater majority, particularly in social services.
At its emotional high point, the speech directly addressed the scandals hitting the current administration while coming back to the overall topic of reform and good governance.
Said Fonseca, “I could have come here this morning, my fellow Belizeans, as I am sure some expected and wanted me to, attack the U.D.P. government – to talk about the Rosewood scandal, the Noh Mul scandal, the K.H.M.H. scandal, the San Estevan road scandal, the ongoing land’s ministry scandal, the Social Investment Fund scandal, the Immigration scandal and on and on.
“Indeed that would have been easy and convenient, but thirty-two years after independence—seventeen years of P.U.P. and fifteen years of U.D.P.—our responsibility is far, far greater than scandal talk. Working together in good faith across party political lines, we must review the systems and structures we have in place to govern and develop Belize. And where there is need for change, improvement and strengthening, let us get it done. On this the thirty-second anniversary of Belize’s independence, let us embrace the politics of change and commit to a new era of governance.”
“Governance continues to be characterized by chronic combativeness,” Fonseca earlier opined as he outlined his vision of “less confrontation and more dialogue, less arrogance and more humility, less personality politics and more problem-solving” as the center of proposed reforms.
He added, after making a reference to the recent rejection of proposals by the PUP members of the House of Representatives’ Public Accounts Committee for reform and enlargement to include the so-called “social partners” of the business sector, trade unions and churches, “The will of the people can be delayed, but it shall not be denied. The politics of change and participation is here to stay.”
Fonseca compared Belize’s political journey to those of the surrounding Central American republics which declared independence from Spain only to dissemble into civil war, military governments and constant unrest. Belize, he said, had been open to welcoming the refugees from these nations and allowing them to rebuild their lives in a quieter, more welcoming nation.
He added that Belize has so far avoided the “ethnic and sectarian violence” which marked the transition to Independence in other colonies in Africa and South and Central Asia, and reminded that the troubles magnified by the recent “Arab Spring” uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa reminded us of the importance of free and fair elections and democratic transitions of power.
But Fonseca, a former Attorney General and Minister of Education, spent much of his 21 minutes at the podium outlining a national development agenda.
Fonseca called for immediate action on job creation and entrepreneurship, a remaking of an education system that takes advantage of Belizeans’ natural talents and encourage “inquiry and creativity,” and tackling a health system and turning it toward addressing rising health care costs and emphasizing health and wellness promotion and “renew our commitment to a functioning, effective national health insurance program for all Belizeans.”
Acknowledging that addressing these issues will take the collective work of individuals and families, organizations and society in general, Fonseca called for a “shared sense of purpose” buttressed by “respect and good faith on all sides.”
He maintained that the government must be for all, not just “select supporters of the party in office.”
Fonseca also cited the “inspiration” of Rowan Garel, the visually-impaired teenager who dived the Blue Hole to raise funds for the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired (BCVI), and the successes of the national male football team, the Jaguars, who shocked Central America with a fourth-place finish in the Central American Cup and played nobly in their first appearance at the CONCACAF Gold Cup this past July.