Those who work to safeguard and protect the Belizean public from political predators feeding off institutionalized corruption, endorsed and utilized by our founding fathers, must be recognized as heroes. These are the people advocating for much needed change and it is a shame that more Belizeans didn’t rally around the teachers and the Auditor General.
The teachers took perhaps the biggest stand led by Palacio and the union’s executive committee. The BNTU locked off schools for 11 days in October, bringing classes to a screeching halt, affecting thousands of primary school students and parents but most of all, backing the government into a corner and forcing it to make difficult decisions in the best interest of Belizeans.
The BNTU demanded that government make good governance reforms and the establishment resisted but teachers united and made a collective sacrifice. By the time the strike was over, the Prime Minister had signed on to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), appointed an Integrity Commission (although the integrity of that Commission should be questioned), signed the commencement order for the appointment of the 13th Senator, and launched a Senate inquiry into instances of corruption at the Immigration Department.
Still, teachers are being targeted by government as the Ministry had instructed school managers to re-open classes on January 3 while BNTU remains adamant that teachers are entitled to the extra week of Christmas holiday. The move will not only affect teachers, however, as many students and their families will have to alter travel and vacation plans because of it. But to teachers, and Palacio, the cause was greater than the consequence.
The teachers rallied to the cause and behind their leader, but perhaps the most impressive thing about the teachers’ strike is how much their message reflected the teachings of scripture. Teachers included prayer and worship at every rally and remained steadfast against the adversity and obstacles thrown their way by the state.
Bradley, on the other hand, took a different kind of stand. The special audit conducted by her office at the Immigration Department in the wake of the Elvin Penner-Won Hong Kim passport scandal rocked the establishment as many high-level government officials and their associates were named in the report for having blatantly ignored procedure, violating immigration regulations.
The revelations were damning, so much so that Bradley herself became a target for government sympathizers and fanatics. The four volume report took several years to compile and only covered a brief window of time at the department, still the level of deep rooted government corruption it unearthed was remarkable. Even Prime Minister Dean Barrow and former Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse were both named in the report for questionable decisions.
And when Bradley was sued by former Speaker of the House Michael Peyrefitte for wrongly accusing him of making an unauthorized recommendation, Bradley acknowledged the error, a thing many officials in high office find very hard to do. Her credibility was attacked but Bradley maintained the integrity of the report.
The Special Audit includes hundreds of pages detailing countless infractions and violation perpetrated by ministers and CEO’s. And given the limited resources allocated to the Office of the Auditor General, an issue Bradley has voiced concern over many times, her office and staff should be commended for the hard and diligent work they have done.
Without the report, Belizeans never would have known how bad the “Immigration hustle” really is. The report has tarnished this administration’s reputation, however, the Senate committee overseeing an inquiry into the matter is unlikely to lead to any repercussions for the guilty. Still, it took tremendous bravery and firm character to stand behind a controversial report involving the highest level of government officials.
Palacio and Bradley led a small revolution of sorts; a revolution of the mind. Their actions encouraged Belizeans to become involved and gain a new political consciousness. Their actions showed that sometimes one’s love for country must go beyond party affiliation and personal gratification. It is the right message for the upcoming generation of Belizean leaders and BBN would like to thank and congratulate Palacio, all the teachers, Bradley and her entire staff for their tireless efforts even in the face of great tribulation.
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