Posted: Sunday, December 17, 2017. 6:41 pm CST.
By BBN Staff: Politicians and public workers in Belize engage in corruption. This is a fact. Is there anyone who would disagree? Perhaps the bottom-feeding political sycophants who depend on handouts to survive would, but generally speaking, this is accepted as common public knowledge. But on December 9, the world celebrated global Anti-Corruption Day and Belize celebrated its one-year anniversary since signing on to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), but in sincere honesty, is Belize less corrupt than it was a year ago?
Are there systems in place to make it harder for politicians to engage in corruption? Have their been constitutional reforms to ensure greater oversight of the Executive and public funds? Are there strong enough laws to ensure corrupt politicians and public workers go to jail for squandering millions of taxpayer dollars? Will the recently concluded Senate probe into corruption at the Immigration Department yield any meaningful arrests or reforms? Or was it all just a colossal waste of time and taxpayer money?
The Prime Minister, Dean Barrow himself, has conceded to corruption within his own administration, dubbing the Lands Department ran at the time by then Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega as a “hotbed of corruption”. Those were his words. And over the last year a slew of documents have emerged, proving widespread and systemic corruption at the Lands Department under Vega’s watch but has he had to face any significant consequences for his illegal actions? Well, he was booted from the party, but that is a political slap on the wrist and not punishment enough for the crimes committed. There are thousands of Belizeans living in poverty with no help and no resources, yet the Vega family has hoarded thousands of acres of land, which would be better used to build new communities and provide homes and opportunities for people.
Vega’s son, Andre Vega, was compensated $400,000 for a plot of land near the Haulover bridge, which the Lands Department never had any authority to sell because it had already been owned. That is only half of what was paid in compensation in that instance, Sharon Pitts got another $400,000. That is $800,000 worth of money belonging to the Belizean people, just stuffed into the pockets of a few greedy fat-cats. Vega’s nephew has been awarded the $8 million contract for the upgrading Faber’s road. His company, RJB Construction, also did the road upgrade on the George Price highway between miles 5 and 6 and that portion of the road was destroyed with the first rain that came following its completion. The road conditions may have even been a factor in an accident that took place on the stretch of loose gravel without adequate signs. This is also the company that did the Lake-I boulevard which is in atrocious conditions already.
How are these people allowed to get away with these things? And who pays the ultimate cost? Us, the Belizean people, and we pay the cost at the fuel pump and on the grocery shelves.
And can we talk about the $90 million Universal Health Services (UHS) debt? All 31 members of parliament should fry for this one. Regardless of what the courts may rule, Said Musa should feel ashamed, not vindicated. Santa Clause should drop a lump of coal down his throat this Christmas for even uttering such words. Legal or not, it was a crooked deal made at the cost of the Belizean people to enrich a few political cronies. It was made even worse by the current government, which pretended to take a moral stand by fighting futile legal battles, which ended up costing the Belizean people more than double what the original award was. And do you know who got rich in the process? Political cronies with legal degrees who couldn’t win a legal case for the government if their lives depended on it.
Of course, this story can’t be told without making special note of the half billion dollars Belize has had to pay to the not so good Lord, Michael Ashcroft for Belize Telemedia Ltd. (BTL) as a result of the Accommodation Agreement first signed by the PUP and made exorbitantly astronomical under the current administration. Still, GOB has spared no expense at BTL, even as Belizeans whether stormy economical times. BTL’s CEO Rochus Schriber, as it was reported in October, is being paid over $700,000 a year. How much do you make a year?
When the question was posed to PM Barrow in parliament, he said he didn’t know anything about Schriber’s salary. It seems this PM never knows the answers to these kinds of questions. But yet PM Barrow, ever talented and in his capacity as detective, was able to provide great details of Albert Cattouse’s murder, a case which is still unsolved. At the time of his death, the activism community was convinced Cattouse was the victim of a political hit. It’s the same reason the PM felt the need to address the matter via press conference a week later, to dispel those rumors. PM Barrow, of course, bet his life that no member of his party would ever do such thing.
This last year also gave birth to the train wreck reality show, the Castro Contras, starring brothers Jafari and Wasani, with a new episode each week almost. Season two must be in filming at the moment. Minister Edmond Castro, however, got his US diplomatic visa revoked earlier in the year. Let him tell it, that’s no big deal because he doesn’t even want to go to the US. K then.
This year Belize also saw a lawless police department with rogue cops plaguing society. There were cops in San Pedro who brutalized a woman then terrorized downtown San Pedro firing guns and injuring innocent citizens. There were cops who ordered food at New Asia in Belize city and pulled guns on the owners and security to avoid paying for the meal. There were cops who were caught on camera smuggling contraband. There were cops caught on camera brutalizing a man who was not resisting arrest. There were countless videos of police roughing up and just generally terrorizing people in certain neighborhoods. There were cops who were accused of lewd acts with teen boys. And there were cops who were accused of raping two women in police detention. In this instance, those cops remain on duty in Independence and the women remain traumatized and in fear, while police drag their feet on the case.
Let’s also not forget that a senior officer in Eastern Division Southside Commander, Senior Superintendent Marco Vidal suggested that his predecessor, former Southside Commander, ASP Chester Williams had afforded leniency to select persons for varying types of offenses. This, of course, led to a bit of a public back and forth with legal action even being threatened at one point. This then led to another breakdown in relations between police and the media, which ended in a second media boycott of police events.
The working relationship between police and the media has since been restored and normalcy has returned. The noise surrounding many of these issues has died down and Belizeans carry on about their daily lives unbothered and seemingly unaware of the magnitude of ills taking place all around. But is Belize less corrupt than it was a year ago? That may be hard to measure, but based simply on the optics, it certainly doesn’t look that way.
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