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Healing the Discontent through civil resistance

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2017. 2:49 p.m. CST.

By Godwin Sutherland Sr.: The country continues to experience violent criminal acts and social discontent since celebrating Independence Day 2017. The nation witnessed an outpouring of solidarity over the disappearance of young Kelvin Usher. Despite the many angles and perceived missteps associated with this case, what stands out is the mistrust the populace has for the police department and its Gang Suppression Unit. The other significant observation is that the Belizean people are fed-up with the continued allegations of corruption. They want things to change for the better but are convinced that the government of Belize is not acting speedily to address their concerns and that young Belizeans are prepared to take to the streets if necessary.  Civil resistance at its foundation expounds that military might does not equate to victory in every instance. The power of the students taking to the streets is a recent case in point. The outcry at the treatment of KREM reporter Marisol Amaya brought pressure on the government to speak about the GSU.

 

It is clear the politicians are oblivious to the need for change and that it will take continued civil resistance to address this disconnect. If one were to examine the various speeches delivered on Independence Day September 21, 2017 it is arguable that the Prime Minister may have missed the mark as well as the two aspiring future prime ministers – the leader of the opposition PUP and the current deputy prime minister may have equally failed. The fact of the matter is that after the speeches, nothing changed significantly, for the better in Belize. One year on, the cry for good governance that was championed so valiantly by the BNTU and supporting parents, appears to have been forgotten, if the independence speeches of 2017 is used as the measure. These leaders, it may be argued, were neither able to engender hope in the population nor were they able to seriously point to measures intended to restore confidence in the integrity of government. Would this have even been possible?  Unless there is the acknowledgement of how they derived the authority with which to speak and the expected modicum of credibility, to speak truth to power. Because of this disconnect, the only way to heal is through embracing acts of civil resistance and affirmative engagements that recognizes the universal human rights of Belizeans. It may not be an overreach to suggest that another wave of peaceful civil resistance looks imminent unless the requisite legislative and institutional framework in line with the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) are delivered within the shortest possible timeframe.

It is imperative therefore, that the government commence the process of reconstructing bridges that can unify Belizeans.  This need for engendering unity is a must, even as the society is faced with many social, economic and political challenges. Belizeans are all called to remain confident in the knowledge that they can unite despite the failings of the homegrown colonizers. The challenge that is posed to arriving to this unified approach, is derived from two probable misunderstandings. The first by the executive and legislature as to how they ought to govern and the other by the citizenry that civil resistance is to be avoided.  It is for these reasons that wholesome change will only come when it is recognized that self-determination is supported by the Constitution of Belize, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by international laws.  Therefore, the exercise of civil resistance is a constructive pathway to an enhanced democracy.  If the concerns associated with good governance were not to be addressed sufficiently the result may well be a widening of the perceived disconnect between the government and the ordinary Belizean man, woman and youth. This fracture cannot be good for Belize and efforts are urgently required to heal it. The question is how to commence the process of healing and who has the ultimate responsibility to see that this healing takes place? It is key that Belizeans begin to believe again in the integrity of government.

This belief however, is challenged by the fact that change will not come from the current executive and legislature. Because majority are a fixture of the pre-2008 elections and from then to now their behavior and speeches reflect no recognition that trust comes with atonement and the demonstrable evidence in favor of change, not only words. This means that civil resistors across this nation would need to become more skilled and intensify their activism if the outcome will be meaningful reform of the governance framework. The potential for change to happen via civil resistance are borne out in the outcomes achieved by civil society actors such as BNTU, OCEANA, BTV and many others who continue in their relentless pursuit for better. The goal must be to continue the skillful organization for a better Belize.

The Constitution of Belize does place an extraordinarily high bar, to which all persons in public life must measure to. Ironically one is reminded of the song “the man in the mirror, “[1]by the legendary Michael Jackson.  They have all looked in the mirror but have not all been able to make the change, if they ever can. It is this sub-standard measure to the requirements of the Constitution that is wreaking havoc in the communities, villages, towns and cities and the result is ever deteriorating wellbeing and disunity. The leaders of the elected political parties may well associate this sub-par measure with political brinksmanship, but for thousands of ordinary Belizeans it is real and its deleterious effects are certainly no joke. The absence in the rhetoric of Independence Day speeches, of an overarching strategic response and thinking to address the poverty and growing inequality in the society is telling.  It revealed obvious lack of the need for relevant institutional transformation that can uplift Belizeans. This observation has credence in the fact that the intellectual world community opined that without such free and liberating legal and institutional reforms, nations will remain poor and people the world over will continue to take to the streets.

For 36 years, this Jewel and its bounty has been increasingly under threat and unable to provide adequately for all.  There are many examples as to why a country so endowed with natural and human resources fails itself.  Professor Patrick Lumumba ascribe blame for these failures to politicians. He said that “…the African politicians began to emerge and they began to show character that is totally inimical to expectation…and Africa began to produce leaders we couldn’t recognize.”[2]The PUP will never have another leader like George Price, but then, but then the country will never have another Prime Minister like George Price,”[3] said Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow. That statement by PM Barrow could never have been crafted as a signal to the Belizean people that there would be no attempt to emulate the level of commitment to unselfish service to the people and country of Belize that the Rt. Hon George Price exemplified. And yet, almost by design, most of the representatives have fallen so short in the quality of service they provide to Belizeans. There are those Belizean heroes who have shown the way by their love for Belize and their adherence to a higher standard in government and the wider community. They would expect better if they walked amongst us today.  Their great leadership led us to independence and to forge a sense of unity. They drafted at independence the Constitution of Belize that embodied these ideals, definitively. Those leaders felt that it was by adherence to the prescribe code of conduct that prosperity would flow to all Belizeans. But prosperity has not materialized for far too many Belizeans. There were the euphoria of crude oil, it had very little impact on the wellbeing of the average person. Instead gas prices is the highest ever to date. Neither did the hype of sustained benefits from the proceeds of Petro-Caribe significantly changed the lives of Belizeans. Without adherence to the greatest levels of accountability and transparency the second tranche is likely to produce similar results. The revelations of the countless allegations of misfeasance in the Immigration and Natural Resources Departments by parliamentarians, their families and friends has done nothing but vividly demonstrate the magnitude of the failure. The fact is that even when new structures are legislated to facilitate the execution of the government’s public sector investment programs there are perceived problems. The Belize Infrastructure Ltd is one such glaring example. This entity was created to include civil society representation but the procurement processes have been questioned by many. It is unclear how the process can result in serial awards to a singular firm.  It is not unreasonable to deduce that the infrastructure works pointed to in the PM’s independence speech will produce more failings if not scrutinized adequately. These failings have become unacceptable and it is evident that consorted action is now required by civil resistors and the wider citizenry to address these situations.

In addition to selecting leaders who faithfully serve the people and the infrequent use of civil resistance, could another reason for this disconnect and failure be a lack of full adherence to the Constitution of Belize.  The Constitution of Belize – Part X, 121(1) [a] through [f] & 121(2) are very clear. It is the opinion of this writer this disconnect between the government and the people will obtain if there are departures from the strict adherence to the code of conduct spelt out under these sections. “This section applies to the Governor-General, Members of the National Assembly, Members of the Belize Advisory Council, Members of the Public Services Commission, Members of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, Public Officers, Officers of Statutory Corporations and government agencies and such other offices as may be proclaimed by law enacted by the National Assembly”[4]

“The persons to whom this section applies shall conduct themselves in such a way as not:

  • To place themselves in positions in which they have a conflict of interest,
  • To compromise the fair exercise of their public or official functions and duties,
  • To use their office for private gains,
  • To demean their office or position,
  • To allow their integrity to be called into question or
  • To endanger or diminish respect for, or confidence in the integrity of the government.”[5]

 

Further reforms to the legal and institutional framework as provided for under UNCAC will also play a significant role in bridging the existing disconnect between government and the citizenry. The Constitution of Belize, however, is not silent on what should obtain if confidence in the integrity of government is to be upheld. It is noted however that the PM in his Independence Day address attempted to address section 121(1) & (2), indicating that his administration, takes action once misfeasance in public life is brought to his attention. Are the measures taken by the PM, when he chooses to act against such misfeasance in full compliance with the Constitution of Belize?  Is the prerogative to act against breeches in conduct solely to be determine by PM or as mandated by the Constitution of Belize? This is the test against which his actions must always be held. This is key to healing the current disconnect and discontent with persons in public life and for the restoration of integrity in government. If it is that the people properly and finally have lost confidence in the integrity of the government, the Constitution also provides under Part V (4), a remedy that allows for a resolution of no confidence in the government to be move It is incumbent on the opposition to make their objections to the status quo known primarily by reliance on the provisions of the Constitution of Belize. It is however unclear what has prevented the opposition from intensified use of civil resistance to usher in change so desired by the masses. The PM as leader of the opposition pre-2008 certainly embraced civil resistance.

It stands to reason that if the PM is slow in taking steps to restoring confidence in his government, there may well arise the possibility when the masses are likely to take to the streets in greater numbers demanding his resignation.  The time to institute meaningful changes to the political and economic institutions, that clearly signal an end to the growing disconnect, is now. Government in their own enlightened self-interest must act and their efforts will be deepened with peaceful and positive resistance in the form demonstrated by the BNTU. There are urgent changes needed to ensure that the following areas prescribed by the Constitution of Belize: Part V: The Executive, Part VI: The Legislature, Part VII: The Judiciary, Part VIII: The Public Service; are so strengthened to reassure the public of the government’s intention to recommit to necessary legal and institutional reforms. These reforms must be in line with the accountability provisions envisioned in Part IV (Finance) and the execution of Part X (123) Power of Appointment and Acting Appointments, working to assure the Belizean ideals as outline in Part II.  In addition to the foregoing, there should be a commitment to a comprehensive review of performance since 1981 in all areas. This will ensue that rectification can be made to ensure best practice going forwards.

The people must absolutely be prepared to try another beginning if we truly want a Belize with restored confidence in its government. It is the view of this writer, contrary to that espoused by the PUDP, that change is itself a renewable commodity and so it is with political change. It stands to reason that moving people along the road to better is well within grasp.  A Better Belize, is not accomplished simply by desiring it or by proclaiming it we must organize and work for it. Recent history has clearly demonstrated that this ideal requires much more than empty platitudes if it will become a reality for the masses. It requires commitment to making Belize a more productive nation that utilizes its resources in a sustainable and equitable manner for the betterment of all Belizeans.  This will require national strategic planning and implementation with unmistakable and verifiable national short, medium and long-term sustainable development goals. The ownership of the processes and framework for actualizing these sustainability in the development processes must reside with the masses, not with the political directorate, not with the political parties, not with the cronies and not with family members of politicians and their privileged few.  But equally important it should not be passed over for the international partners to be the ones who determine what is good for Belize’s development without the people’s direction, input and control. This point places emphasis on the need for multi-stakeholder collaboration and partnership that is nationally owned.  This is an essential point that cannot be overemphasized.

The call from proponents of civil resistance must be for the utilization of a mechanism that uses a more inclusive model or framework for development. Such a mechanism must provide for the views of the masses to be taken on board at the time of designing, developing, implementing, evaluating and that provides for real-time stakeholder feedback. This will assure that the reform measures reach across the Belizean landscape and result in reduced inequality and poverty. This reality will never be easy but that does not make it any less of a necessity, despite the forces conspiring to instill negativity in the nation’s consciousness. After 36 years of independence, this construct of a Belize that celebrates less than the best must be replaced by one that rises to its best self, a better Belize.

 

Belizeans it is when you hold your elected leaders and those in public life to a greater standard of transparency and accountability, that you will realize true sustainable development.  It is, however, by the removal of any unjustifiable encumbrances for the common man to access a reformed justice system, with equal weighted representation, that one can secure the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms and challenge government excesses.  Having optimum access may require the creation of  A Justice Bank, that would be fully enabled, such that it provides bridging financing that allows Belizeans to better access the justice system. Such a mechanism is suggested given the growing inequality in our society.  It is the view of this writer, that the cycle of discontent will be shortened and intensify if the governance system and its performance does not come under critical review after 36 years of independence. To the extent that the executives & legislature are reluctant to exercise the political necessary to effect meaningful change resulting from review the civil resistance movement will continue to work for better.

 

Belize at 36 should never be a story of mediocracy but of optimism born of the knowledge that Belize was gifted to us.  We hold and owe to this generation and the future, a collective obligation to leave Belize a better country. The guardians of a better future, for our young, for all those who dwell now and those yet unborn. All of Belize, forever sovereign, independent and free with all its territory and rights securely intact.

 

Godwin B. Sutherland Sr.

1 October 2017

 

[1] Official video, the legendary  Michael Jackson

[2] Magufulification of Africa by Professor. PLO Lumumba, https://youtu.be/XPV5ZViSC0o

[3] Rt. Hon. Dean O. Barrow,  farewell to Rt. Hon. George Price, State Funeral

[4] The Constitution of Belize –Part X, 121(2)

[5] The Constitution of Belize- Part X, 121(1)

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

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