Belize’s rampant corruption is eating away at the very fabric of democracy
Posted: December 11, 2015. 10:46 a.m. CST.
By BBN Staff:On December 9th, 2015 the world recognized the 12th Annual Anti-Corruption Day. The 2015 joint international campaign focused on how corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to human rights violations, distorts markets, erodes quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.
The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) is a multilateral convention negotiated by members of the United Nations. It is the first global legally binding international anti-corruption instrument. As of December 1st, 2015 there are 178 parties that have signed and ratified their status for the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. In the entire Americas, the only two countries that have not signed onto the UNCAC, are Suriname and Belize.
What is “corruption”? In Belize, the word “corruption” is a word that has transformed into an abstract. I assure that corruption is very real and its effects on society are very tangible. Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs.” I have simplified this definition to – “The unjust gain by the few, by depriving the many.”
The most dangerous precedent being set in Belize is where too many Belizeans are losing the ability to identify acts of corruption and linking it to the devastating effects it has, even when it affects them personally. This phenomenon is exacerbated by politicians actively interpreting and re-defining what is and isn’t corruption, on the media and in House of Representative meetings. This process was abundantly obvious in the Senate Meeting held on December 9th, 2015 (International Anti-Corruption Day), when Steve Duncan, a United Democratic Party Senator stated “And it is has to be recognized that the standards might be differ for small countries than they are for larger developed countries. What may be perceived as corruption in one country might be perceived as a mistake in a bigger country.”
The call for political and constitutional review and reform began in the 1990s and gradually intensified over the decade. In March 1994 the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR) launched the first comprehensive campaign to engage the nation in a sustained debate on the issue of political reform. In November 1995, Manuel Esquivel, the then Prime Minister of Belize, announced that his UDP government would establish a bi-partisan committee on political reform along with the opposition People’s United Party (PUP) and civil society representatives. There was some obvious turmoil, however on January 13, 1999, under Said Musa’s People’s United Party, the Political Reform Commission “the Commission” was launched and the “Final Report of the Political Reform Commission” was presented in 2000. It is important to note that Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Senator Godwin Hulse served on this commission.
From a list of 13 key concerns by Belizeans “Official corruption and lack of accountability of elected and public officials”, The Commission concluded, was the number one key concerns by Belizeans about the System of Governance. The report goes on to say that the system is in essence a dictatorship of the Cabinet with little scope for others to participate in decision making. It encourages political tribalism as the PUP and UDP compete viciously for the power of the Cabinet. The electorate has little direct say over who becomes the nation’s executive leader, and has not effectively prevented the increase of official waste and corruption.
This 113 page report was completed 15 years ago. We have transcended from petty corruption to grand corruption, according to Transparency International measuring stick. 13 years later in 2013, the UDP leader and Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, had quite a headache with the Ministry of Immigration, as well as the Lands Department, to the point that he was quoted during a visit to Los Angeles in October 2013, saying “I believe that the lands department unfortunately is another hotbed of corruption.”
Senator Godwin Hulse was put in charge of the Immigration Department to help clean up that hotbed of corruption. With the UDP 2015 win for a third term in office, Senator Hulse has now been put in charge to the clean up the hotbed of corruption in the Lands Department. However, as he stated on December 9, 2015 (International Anti-Corruption Day) about the Immigration Department “All of us know that in the past irregularities occurred. The department has taken persons before the Public Service Commission, but lost on what seemed to be a clear cut case on technicalities. The same occurred with twenty-two persons taken before the Supreme Court for procuring nationality by descent fraudulently. The department continues to strengthen processes and practices to prevent the re-occurrence of these situations; however, they are only as good as the persons operating these systems.” However, how effective has these strengthening of processes been? How did a high profile individual like David Banes (David Nanes Schnitzer), who helped defrauded investors of 7 billion dollars, slip thru the cracks? How did an individual like Dr. John Hall, the dentist from the United States who pleaded guilty to seven counts of injecting semen into his patients’ mouths, get documents to practice in Belize? How is it that no one is in jail for the Citizen Kim incident? Why is it that the PUP nor the UDP had anti-corruption promises in their manifesto leading up to the November 4th, 2015 General elections? How did we end up being named as laundering haven for the terrorist group Islamic State (ISIS)?
Corruption hurts poor people the most. In worst cases it cost lives. Corruption exacerbates violence and insecurity. Corruption depletes national wealth. Corrupt politicians invest scarce public resources in projects that will line their pockets rather than benefit communities and prioritize high-profile projects over less spectacular but more urgent infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and other vital public services.
Belize is a developing nation with needs to develop. We need to create quality jobs for our people, especially our young people who have just come out of high school and tertiary institutions. We need more investment, but people won’t come into our country and invest when it’s plagued with corruption. The politicians, who make the laws and policies that directly affect the social and economic fabric of Belize, have not taken heed. The greed and corruption have transcended from exception to norm. We are literally robbing the future from our children.
People often think that corruption is “just a way of life”, but every society, sector and individual would benefit from saying “NO” to this crime. Let us not listen to any of our political leaders explain to us what is corruption. Let us demand that the instruments that will fight corruption, is put in place. Let us demand that the head of state, the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow:
1. Sign on to and ratify the United Nations Convention Against Corruption
2. Participate in the Transparency International Corruption Index: Belize have not participated since 2008 (The same year UDP got into power).
3. Make active and restructure the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
4. Make active the Integrity Commission (Members of the BPP told the media that they are willing to serve).
With these 4 instruments in place our Government will prove, without a shadow of a doubt, without fear, that it is serious about fighting corruption.
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