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August 31, 2017

Belize: An Honour Base System?

 

Posted: Thursday , August 31, 2017. 4:09 p.m. CST.

By Godwin Sutherland Sr.: In theory our political construct presupposes that it would be honour base.  In demonstration of this intent, our parliamentarians are all honourable men and women and have been so designated. It is for this reason that they are honour bound to execute their ministerial and collective obligations, in good conscience.  Isn’t this our expectation? Don’t we have a right to expect that our legislatures would be held to the highest standards commensurate with good governance practices? Is there not someone whose obligation it is ultimately, to ensure that our system of government performs, in the interest and on behalf of its citizenry, in an effort to ensure confidence in our institutions and public officials?  Under this very system of governance, are there not several avenues for pursuing remedies, in the event of a breakdown in our institution and lack of confidence in persons in public office? There are several examples of how government may wish to respond to allegation of corruption. Minister Stuart Young, Attorney General of Trinidad & Tobago, you tube video, provides an excellent example of an approach that can be used in the face of allegations of corruption surrounding lands sales and unjust enrichment. The approach used was definitely not in the form of a press release from OPM. Such example demonstrates that even an honour base system requires deliberate action to safeguard its honour and to restore confidence across the nation in our systems.

So in instances where there may be a perceived reluctance to act against corruption, to secure the continued integrity of an honour base system, the masses are obligated to rise up! It is therefore through this lens that the House of Representatives sat in session on August 18th, 2017 and the Senate on 23rd August, 2017. In an absolute intellectual display of understanding of the immense power, wheeled by his title, the PM with precision, conducted the government business, their political agenda as he determined. Despite the resounding nationwide call for deliberate action, with respect to allegation of corruption at the lands department, it was not so treated. Equally interesting is the fact that the referendum on offshore drilling, definitively communicated to the government, the wishes of the Belizean people years ago, the PM announced a promise to treat with this matter.  Can you also recall the UDP’s pledge to expunge the police records, of those citizens who were charged for small quantities of marijuana? This promise languished as deference were given to other interest groups or agendas. It may be that we had all forgotten the urgency to devolve powers to our municipalities, that we were reminded in a Bill for an Act to amend the Town Council Act, which was introduced by the PM and passed through all its stages, in an effort to enable a municipality to have a mechanism to finance the completion of a project. The impact of this laudable amendment, may have been lost as a result of revelations, during the Senate debate, that the construction company, engaged by a municipality, to construct its offices was owned by persons closely related to the area representative. Amazingly, this fact never surfaced, neither disclosed by the PM nor raised by the Leader of the Opposition, in the House! The fact that such an omission was made is truly interesting, isn’t it? Clearly, Town Fund of municipalities must equally be adequately accounted for in all respects.

How could it have been so difficult to conceive that at some point this procurement decision, would have been revealed publicly? Did it elude all those involved that the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the relevant line Ministry should have been consulted in relation to GOB procurement regulations, of public funds? If it was that the MOF was involve, did they refer the tenders for the design and construction of the municipality’s office building to The Office of the Contractor General for review and guidance? Such checks would have been instructive in the context of an awareness that the ink used for the signing of the UNCAC, has probably not even dried as yet, as is the pledge by GOB to fight acts and perceptions of corruptions? How could someone not think that such a revelation may present significant difficulty for ‘otherwise decent people’ to provide a no-objection to the Bill, in good conscience? In the event that these consideration are taken lightly, of course there would have not been a thorough exercise of due diligence. Insisting to move forward with the amendment, would have had to take on-board the pros and con of the likely political fall-out associated with such a revelation, especially given the impending municipal elections.  A probable determination that the PM could have made was that this procurement infraction, is really not so egregious that decent people, who knew or become aware of the contract award, should be too concern. After all, leaders of the political establishment could well argue that, even in the face of extreme reporting of possible malfeasants, little response or reprobation is demonstrated by the society.

So it was that the legislature under the guidance of the PM passed the amendment to the Town Council Act, thus enabling the municipality to access funds to enable the completion of the office build, in time for the municipal election. But aren’t you confuse at times, as to whether the opposition are seriously representing in a way that can result in institutional change, giving due regards to our system of governance? Does it not appear at times that much more manoeuvres occurs when the Lord interests are threatened?

Well in a spectacular move, speaking on the adjournment,  Hon. Said Musa (former PM), challenged the PM, Hon Dean Barrow effectively arguing that the PM, by initiating the process that lead to the enactment of a proclamation, did not follow the preferred route to further delay the re-registration process.  The PM response in part is documented in News 5, August 18th 2017 new report to be found online. In the House the PM concluded his response by indicating that if the opposition find objection to his using the pre-independence proclamation, then take the matter to Court…  To date I am unaware of any decision made by the PUP to answer the PMs’ public challenge. In fact, the nation feels the deafening silence from the PUP’s eminent legal luminaries, on re-registration. After having waited for twenty (20) years, what would be the excuse for such reticence by the PUP, is it what it is for you too?  Is it politics as usual? How is it possible to argue for an investigation into the Lands Department, guns ablaze, on the one hand but would turn a blind eye to mounting a legal challenging the re-registration? Is there ever a compelling argument not to do the right thing for Belize, you honourable men and women? Do you not feel that you can best advance your case by showing you are truly reform? If the re-registration and a fair voters list is essential to our democracy, why not fight for Belize? Are you happy with our political institutions, as they are? The Belizean people remain poor as long as the institutions that keeps us impoverished remains. As long as such institutions facilitates the selling of our votes, allows for the nation to engage in successive elections with a tainted votes list and also could be used to facilitate the unjust enrichment of persons in public office, the work is not yet done. It is the perpetuation of failed institutions and systems by the PUDP, that has prevented the forging of a truly people centred public administration system and a futuristic and sustainable economic development programme. How can the PM with credibility maintain the position, that it simply does not have the twenty million dollar cost projected by the Election and Boundaries Commission…? This if followed to its natural conclusion may well be an acknowledgement of failure.

In the bestseller, The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty: Why Nations Fail,[1] authors  Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson,  endeavoured to answer the question as to why are some nations rich an others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine. In their book they examined if it is culture, the weather or geography that determines prosperity or poverty and they were able to indicate that none of those factors is either definitive or destiny. In fact they argued conclusively that it is our man-made political and economic institutions that underlie economic success, or the lack thereof.  The authors further stated that, “politics is the process by which a society chooses the rules that will govern it. Political institutions determine who has power in society and to what ends that power can be used.  This gives rise then to issues related to the distribution of power (absolute or distributive) in such political institution. If the political institutions are absolute the outcome is then that those who can wield this power will be able to set up extractive economic institutions that enrich themselves and augment their power at the expense of society.”

It is for the forgoing reasons that the PM has a constitutional obligation, as the current office holder, to lead the institutional transformation necessary to restore the confidence, in our political and economic systems to deliver change for the Belizean populace. It is absolutely essential to underscore that the opposition does also have an important role to play, as does the citizenry. Belizean it is important that we continue to demand political and economic institutional reform in our own interest. If this is not demanded we will continue to see rampant evidence of unjust enrichment, unbridled corruption and increased poverty in our nation. “Belizeans, fear if you must, doubt if you must, but never settle, choose to act for Belize, be non-conformists.iiIn this way we play our part in ensuring that our systems and those we elect stay honourable and works for all Belizeans.

[1] http://whynationsfail.com/summary/

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

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