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PM’s Press Conference – Much ado about nothing?

Posted: Monday, March 19, 2018. 10:25 a.m. CST.

By Lisa Shoman: Yesterday when the news flashed through social media in the Jewel that Cabinet was meeting on a Sunday morning, I was electrified with the possibilities. I, and many Belizeans, were pretty sure that the PM and Cabinet were going to decide to impose a State of Emergency for at least a part of Belize City.

Everything including the PM’s overweening pride pointed to it.

To guide those Belizeans who were clamoring for “Marshall Law” or even “Martial Law”, I wrote a careful piece explaining why neither could be imposed, and what a State of Emergency which could, would mean. I described the last SOE, declared in March 1981.

And I explained what were the possible effects of an SOE and what its impact could be. I also took the time to describe several things which could be done instead, a few with immediate effect, like firing the ComPol.

So when we learned that a press conference would be held at 3 pm, I started to have doubts, but resolved to wait and see if the SOE or at least “a plan“ would be announced by the PM then.

3 O’clock came and went and then the news was that the press conference was being pushed to 4. That is when it dawned on me. They had not yet decided what to do, and there would be no SOE announced.

This is so at odds with what I thought I knew of PM Barrow who is generally not concerned with plebeian opinion, that at first, my mind refused to compute the possibility. What I failed to fully factor in was how much of a lame duck Prime Minister the PM had become, how weak DPM Faber was after his disastrous generalship in the municipal elections, and how powerful John Saldivar had become after his triumph in Belmopan.

So when the Press Conference actually began, and the PM started to speak, I knew that Whylie would not go. The ComPol at least felt safe. So safe was he that he was made to dutifully parrot the events of the previous 36 hours in the old capital adding far less content that news media and social media already had.

Then it came. The announcement- that BDF would patrol the old City with BPD and that there would be One Ministry of National Security under Saldivar (resist the remarks about Gollum and his precious).

And shortly after, came the declaration we had all been waiting for – that there would be No State of Emergency – except for the declaration of “emergency areas” due to a public emergency.

Wait. What?? That was it? That was the hard approach we were expecting?

The GOB’s grand plan to tackle crisis in Belize is to keep Whylie where he is, move Sedi Elrington as Minister of the Police, give back Saldivar the Ministry he lost over the Mason scandal. That and bring back the same special zones that were promulgated by Order in 2012.

In an Extraordinary Gazette dated November 8, 2012, the Crime Control and Criminal Justice (Special Areas) (Belize City) Order, 2012, declared five Southside Belize City zones for special security forces operations—including warrantless searches for a maximum of 30 days.

It did not produce the desired result of suppressing crime save perhaps temporarily. And it will not do now. This is like screwing down the safety valve on the pressure cooker on the boiling pot of beans while simultaneously turning up the stove. Ordinary citizens will be hurt and they will react with resentment and frustration. There will be operational preventive detention without the pesky legal problems.

I suspect that the SOE was not imposed for economic reasons. No cruise ship could call here if it had been declared for Belize City. I also believe that Saldivar, one of the municipal elections biggest “winners” bid for his old Ministry back, with the promise that he could “deal with” the situation informally without an SOE, and abracadabra, he got his whole Ministry again.

Not only did he get it back, but the PM praised him to the heights saying that things had never been better handled than under John, throwing previous office holders Godwin, Sedi (and even hapless Aragon) under the bus.

Never mind that under John Saldivar in 2012 there were the most murders in the nation’s history in any given year – 145. Never mind that he was stripped of his Ministry portfolio for allegedly being too close to an accused murderer.

So this is what that Cabinet meeting on Sunday morning produced. It was extraordinary only because of its timing.

What should they have done instead? Take the long hard winding road. Start by firing the ComPol. No one, including his BPD has any confidence in him.

Re-prioritize the current budget to deal with crime and violence. Take the hard, difficult steps outlined in the Crooks, Report, the Gayle Report, the Crimes Commission Report.

Stop paying off gangs. Stop using gangs as street muscle. Stop fomenting gang violence as a means of control or smokescreen for other nefarious deeds done.

Allow the creation of a “CICIB” like the Guatemalan CICIG to curb and punish corruption, the International Commission against Impunity.

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

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