10 things Belize needs to do to become competitive in the 21st century
Posted: January 29, 2016. 6:48 a.m. CST.
By BMG Staff: Over the past few years there has been so much development in fields ranging from technology to medicine and agriculture, the world has become intensely competitive. In many industries, machine has replaced man in an effort to maximize profits and efficiency but human resources will always be valuable.
In places like Belize, however, development has been slow. The country depends heavily on agriculture and tourism. The oil industry is receding as reserves dry up and there is not much else to look forward to. Belize imports more than it exports. Belize does not manufacture any goods, has very few services to export and only a handful of local products that would do well on foreign shelves.
Belize desperately needs to become more competitive in the 21st century. But for that to happen, several other things need to happen first to ensure there are strong structures in place to facilitate growth.
Issues like corruption, deficiencies in the education sector, infrastructure, tax policies and economic development all need to be addressed. The following is a list of 10 things which would be extremely beneficial to the country’s development.
1.) Sign the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC)
Belize is one of only two nations in the entire Western hemisphere that has not signed the UNCAC, the other being Suriname.
The UNCAC was introduced as the world’s first legally binding anti-corruption instrument. It is an eight-chapter document that obliges member states to implement several anti-corruption measures that may affect their laws, institutions and practices. The measures aim to criminalize certain conducts, strengthen international law enforcement and judicial cooperation, provide effective mechanisms for asset recovery, and provide technical assistance and information exchange systems between member states.
To date the UNCAC has been ratified by 168 countries world wide, yet Belize has not ratified the convention even though it is a member state of the UN and has ratified many other UN conventions.
2.) Implement a two-term limit for area representatives
As it currently stands, some politicians have made careers of serving for decades as area representatives but a public service should never become a career. The longer a person maintains power, the more opportunity there is to be corrupted.
No politician should be able to serve more than two terms in any position. Implementing a law to regulate how many terms a politician can serve would also ensure that younger, vibrant and educated members of society are able to participate in the political process.
Also, there needs to be a re-districting to ensure constituencies are represented fairly. Some constituencies have three times the amount of voters than others yet are often given less representation in the House of Representatives.
3.) Make the Judiciary independent
The Judiciary, the Courts, need to be free of Executive influence. While on paper it should be, there is no denying that the government has considerable influence over the Judicial system as GOB is able to interpret certain judgments to its convenience.
The Judicial system in Belize needs a complete overhaul. Building new courts should also become an option and a priority to help clear up the backlog of cases. Legislative reforms should also be taking into consideration as many people are currently in jail on otherwise petty drug and misdemeanor charges.
4.) Increase National Security
The last few months have made it abundantly clear that Belize needs to step up its national security efforts. The long-standing Guatemalan claim came to a head this past year and has proven how vulnerable Belize is along its borders.
Investing in recruitment drives and training for soldiers is something Belize really needs. Of course, given the population, any such effort would mean the Belize Defense Force (BDF) would still be considerably smaller than a Guatemalan army but it certainly makes sense to beef up security on our end to patrol the borders and look for poachers encroaching into Belizean territory.
Belize loses millions every year to poachers, gold panners and xateros who extract precious natural resources from the country and profit from entering illegally.
5.) Implement an anti-nepotisim law
It has become the standard that when politicians are elected to office, they hire their friends, family and cronies to take up preferential offices and make large salaries.
This hurts the economy very much. A law like this would ensure that qualified people are selected for these positions and ensure that tax dollars are not wasted on people who are not qualified to fill those roles. Having qualified public servants will ensure that the country’s public sector is productive and will ensure that tax payers get quality public service.
6.) A restructure of the tax system
The public and private sector must continue to work together to find a new tax regime which will ease the burden on business owners, especially small, start-up business owners.
Owning and operating a business in Belize is too expensive and restrictive, and often discourages many would-be entrepreneurs from starting a business. There needs to be an economic atmosphere which inspires business and innovation.
7.) Give power to oversight bodies
This goes hand-in-hand with anti-corruption efforts but oversight bodies like the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the Integrity Commission and the Senate need to be re-configured to ensure proper oversight of government.
The government maintains the majority in each of these bodies, and no government can be trusted to thoroughly investigate itself. Power has to be restored to the people, whose tax dollars are squandered and stolen by crooked politicians who fight tooth and nail to ensure that oversight bodies can never be efficient to investigate and uncover their illegal deeds.
The 13th senator needs to be installed, the civil society partners need to be added to the PAC and the Integrity Commission needs to finally be appointed and reconfigured with dedicated, respectable people.
8.) Invest in research and education
Belize needs to adopt a culture of research as conducting studies and surveys help to identify problems areas in the economy and the education system. Education in this country also needs a complete overhaul. Belize has invested millions in curriculum programs and salary increases for teacher yet there has been no evident improvement in the education system as students continue to under-perform in the PSE.
Belize needs to tailor an education system to meet the unique needs of this country and prepare students for available and developing fields of employment. Adopting a model like Singapore’s is a good option, where students are placed in academic programs based on their individual skills and levels of education. This ensures that students become productive citizens from earlier instead of wasting time on subjects they won’t have any practical use for.
9.) Make Internet free or at least cheaper
Ok, so Internet won’t be free but at the very least, GOB needs to find a way to make Internet cheaper because the current prices are insanely, atrociously and ridiculously expensive. Belize continues to be the Caribbean nation with the most expensive Internet rates in the region.
In the 21st century so much business is done via the Internet and having to pay an arm and a leg for a quality connection is not conducive to business and economic growth. Belize pays way more than any other Caribbean country for Internet service and this gap needs to be closed.
Foreigners who settle in Belize and start businesses often face this same problem and complain about the ridiculous cost. GOB needs to do something about this soon, but having a monopoly on the industry gives them no incentive to make any changes any time soon.
Also, Belize needs to ensure that all students and most of its citizens are computer literate and tech savvy to some degree. The modern world is all about being up on the latest tech and Belize needs to get on it or be left behind.
10.) Invest in solar power and sustainable development initiatives
Belize needs to invest in solar energy and pass legislation that encourages the use of solar energy. The country and more specifically, politicians need to ensure that projects are sustainable and feasible before giving the green light to millionaire investors whose main focus is profit and not the sustainable development of Belize’s natural resources.
Harvest Caye was rushed and approved despite evidence indicating that it might not have been the most feasible option. Now Blackadore Caye faces similar scrutiny with concerns arising after the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) consultation for that project. GOB needs to ensure that these projects are in the best interest of the environment and not just the pockets of a few people.
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