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Some Lessons learnt from the Blue Tsunami of 2020

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johnny briceno

Posted: Tuesday, December 1, 2020. 2:02 pm CST.

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

By Dr. Marcelino Avila: The massive, history-making landslide win for the PUP in the November 11th national elections was long in the making. The result was a logical consequence of the unbearable UDP administration’s faults and, on the other hand, the PUP leadership, timely preparations and planning processes organized to win a national election. Many lessons can be learnt, and the positive ones should be put to good practice.

The UDP’s faults were just beyond repair!

Corruption including nepotism and cronyism, from start to finish for 13 years, comprised of scandal after scandal, too numerous to mention. Even in the weeks or days preceding the election, there were three major scandals, i.e. USA fraud case against Lev Derment, use of BTL credit card for personal shopping, Corozal land scandal, and use of government machinery and staff for personal benefit. The UDP had sailed into office in 2008 on the salient promise to root out corruption once and for all. Then for 13 years, whenever the UDP defended itself on corruption scandals, they made reference to the same pre-2008 PUP administrations’ misdeeds. Dwelling on the same record over and over, in the face of repeated, deplorable new scandals, only quickened the UDP’s loss of credibility. That argument of the UDP, of you being worse than me, is arrogance and a race to the bottom of the barrel. When doing wrong, it is wise to for a party to accept responsibility, correct the wrong, and get back on track.

Before elections, the economy was in recession, and crime statistics were alarming, way before Covid-19 struck. In the last 12 years, economic growth plummeted to 0.3% per year in 2019, instead of the required of 5%. Consequently, poverty rate rose to at least 50%, trade deficit exceeded a billion Bze dollars per year, government continued to borrow heavily to keep up its ambitious infrastructure program, and then have to borrow more to contain the spiralling Covid-19 pandemic and assist those suffering from the pandemic. The debt/GDP ratio rose from 96%, before Covid, to 132% in 9 months.

Covid-19 and the national response were mishandled by the Government: the testing program was deficient, PPE supplies were limited, dying Covid-19 patients not being properly and timely attended to, and health care facilities not properly upgraded, certainly not as well the “highways”, and to make matters worse, the front-line healthcare workers were promised but not rewarded financially. In addition, there were public complaints that the food and income assistance programs were being manipulated by the UDP leaders to mainly benefit their supporters. The priority was in the wrong place.

The proposed Equal Opportunities Bill (EOB) was a perfect example of GoB’s poor judgment and poor, top-down policy making. The EOB was championed by the National AIDS Commission, Caribbean Partnership against HIV & AIDS, Human Dignity Trust, and Special Envoy for Women and Children, all externally driven. For the consultations in Belize City and Orange Walk Town, copies of the 88-page document were not availed. The draft EOB contained controversial articles, i.e. 21 protected groups, ambiguous definitions, principles against Christian beliefs, unfair treatment of service providers, employers, property owners, educators, and above all, it proposed establishing a Commission and Tribunal to dictate, enforce, and impose EOB provisions. The public feedback was loud and clear. The vast majority at both consultations soundly rejected the EOB, and recommended serious legal review and a referendum before going any further with it. Notwithstanding, Cabinet was going ahead with it, until the Churches stepped in to stymie the legalization process.

The whole country, and especially its main political base, the Belize south-side, were not happy with the UDP. The Government helped their supporters with handouts and token support. During 3 terms in office, they did not, could not implement any sustainable job or enterprise development programs for the masses in these poor neighbourhoods. Reality never deceives, it’s there for all to witness.

The UDP leadership contest was prolonged, and the leadership decision-making process created division and much confusion within the party during 2020. The first leader-elect was disqualified due to corruption, so the contest was re-started. Sensing real problems ahead, candidates hesitated, rotated like musical chairs, and even one candidate without any political base entered the race only to withdraw later. Mr Barrow, who was to step down in early 2020, remained as Party Leader and Prime Minister. With Mr Barrow being essentially a one-person team, the new Party Leader had little time to unite the Party, not enough time to prepare his own team and strategy for the election, it was unfair.

The UDP fell asleep at the wheel at the 11th hour. You heard that saying – elections are won on election day. Well, on that day, the UDP displayed poor organization, held back on the “money” and when they realized what was happening, it was already a lost cause. They managed to salvage only 4 south-side Belize City divisions and the Corozal North division. Only these 5 remained loyal to the party, won by an average 428-vote difference per division.

The PUP was dead-serious about winning, went about its preparations in textbook manner!

The preparatory process for national elections began in earnest, and its policy and strategic planning exercises started in an organized way in 2017, beginning with its preliminary proposals on eradicating corruption and ensuring good governance.

Over an 18-month period prior to the elections, working groups were established on every topic of strategic importance for government (e.g. education, health, the economy, agriculture, tourism, rural development, women, family, blue economy, and many others) to consult, discuss and draft policy and strategic priorities, which were then analyzed and fine-tuned, at technical and then at political levels. These proposals were later synthesized for inclusion into the PUP’s plans. It was a team effort, a bottom-up approach, integrating inputs and empirical data from all relevant sectors and levels of the population, which culminated in PlanBelize, the Campaign Manifesto Everybody Fi Win endorsed by all PUP candidates, and also a necessary restructuring of some ministries.

There was a full-court press in the last 6 months, which just intensified in the weeks before elections. The PUP campaigned as though the margin of victory would be miniscule, hence never easing on the accelerator. Continuous access to the media and advertising played a major role in enabling the PUP to unfold the breadth and depth of its proposals, to convince the electorate that the PUP had a robust agenda and was ready to lead the country.

Leadership and teamwork clinched the deal. Past adversaries in the UDP and even in the PUP may have underestimated the diverse abilities of Party Leader John Briceño. His ability to lead and promote teamwork is there for all to see now, as he worked the process to unify the PUP, reached out to search for and attract potential leaders for political and executive positions, and to rise successfully to the pinnacle of authority in Belize. He brings to government a different philosophy of leadership, a different management style, and a different modus operandi. He and his team are expected to work to earn the respect and support of all Belizeans in implementing their programs to deliver on PlanBelize.

Implications of landslide victories for democracy in Belize!

There was no way the UDP could squeeze a win. The PUP was ready for a big fight that never materialized. No doubt, the PUP deserved the win, and Belize deserves a revitalized Government, one that should serve the people with integrity, teamwork and excellence. That is why they voted for the new Government.

Landslide victories are usually not good for democracy in Belize. Landslide wins have happened in 4 of the 9 elections since Independence. The UDP did it in 1983 and after one term was kicked out; the PUP in 1998 and the UDP did it again in 2008. For both administrations, real problems began to mount right after the first term in office. What does this say about the quality of our leaders, about their learning and improving the ability to govern with integrity and competence, or about the workings of our system of checks-and-balance embedded in the 3 arms of government?

Winning with a large majority in the House puts pressure on the winning party. The size of the Cabinet with 23 representatives out of a total 31 in the National Legislature, gives enormous power to the Executive branch. A party in government with an 84% (26 out of 31) of the House can change our Constitution as it sees fit, which can be beneficial, provided the leaders are truly honourable, wise and patriotic, but horrible for Belizeans if all they seek is for personal gain. The Opposition in the House (leader plus 4 reps.) will have a huge responsibility and work load to ensure good governance.

Challenges for this government are clear to all: a) needed reforms for clean, efficient governance, and respect for the rule of law, b) focus on the economy to raise productivity and competiveness so that Belizeans can increase standards of living, and c) reduce the growing inequalities detrimental to sustainable human development. Being successful in all 3 priorities will enable Belize to deal with many other problems being confronted today, including Covid-19, poverty, crimes and climate change.

To rise to the challenge, our Government leaders must learn from others who are better at governing, in order to move Belize forward towards a better future and prosperity in this region and in the world.

 

 

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