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Point and Counterpoint- Politics and Public Policy: Dirty Laundry

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2021. 1:21 pm CST.

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

By Dorian A. Barrow, Ph.D., Florida State University: Some recent events have led me to ask the questions: who in the Belizean Society really gets what from political and government institutions? How does our political system select some problems for attention, such as the recent almost unilateral decision by a politician, in the words of a UB Official, “to broadside the National University by granting University status to a Roman Catholic Junior College”, but ignores others such as Free Education? Or more land for the landless? Or more food the put on our tables? Or who is to get help for cancer treatment and who is not? Who has been deciding that Unitedville is to be without running water for so long? And with Christmas coming soon who is deciding when Delores Garcia will get more money for her Pantry Program to feed the hungry and the indigent. The aim of this reflection is, therefore, to try and figure out how various policymakers in this country design and implement public policies and how those policies ultimately affects the Belizean Society.

The practice of politics and policy-making in this country is messy and complicated and involves hundreds of players in the public and private sectors. Public policies are made not only by the most visible political actors – the legislators, Cabinet and the Prime Minister – but also by the Commissioner of Police, judges, and bureaucrats. Moreover, Belize is said to be a Parliamentary Democracy in which mayors and local governments are taking increasing responsibility for the design and conduct of public policies. For example, Mayor Wagner of Belize City is currently trying to convince the Councillors of the Belize City Council, to levy a garbage collection tax on the Citizens of Belize City. How policies are chosen and implemented is important, but so is what is decided, and what it means for the Citizens and the Society.

It is undeniable that policymakers in Belize are facing many difficult, unpleasant choices. Contemporary problems such as budget deficits, constitutional reforms, high levels of unemployment, skyrocketing poverty, a reticent police force and high levels of crime, limited options in the fight against the COVID-Pandemic, the erosion of civil liberties and personal freedoms, and a larger than ever out-of-school youth population, do not yield to traditional solutions. Furthermore, the growing importance of the media including social media, the role of money in political campaigns, the propped-up resurgence of the Roman Catholic Church in party politics, the proliferation of grass-roots interest groups like the Mile 43 lands group, the apparent instability of the opposition UDP and the increasing fragmentation of the labour unions and other political institutions, all influence public policy choices and outcomes. But what is public policy in Belize, who is to make them and who actually makes them?

If we take public policy to mean “the authoritative distribution of benefits and cost to society”, then our public policies should be made by the National Assembly (House and Senate), by Cabinet or the equivalent in our Town councils, by our courts through Court Orders, in addition to rulemaking and adjudication by the bureaucrats with inputs from clients and professionals. But because our political system is much more of a Rubber-band Democracy than the Parliamentary Democracy that it is supposed to be on paper, public policy is made mostly by elected politicians who are part of the government in power. For example, the day after the PUP swept the UDP out of Office last November, Jose Mai, the elected PUP representative from Orange Walk on his way to be sworn-in in Belmopan, authorized some cattle exporters that he met on the road to proceed with exporting their cattle to Guatemala, even though technically it was illegal for him to do so. Mai at the time was not yet a Minister, a mere elected representative of a majority party-elect!

The Hon. Jose Mai’s case is not an isolated one. Just recently, the Hon. Francis Fonseca, the Minister of Education, granted a university charter to SJC, without the approval of Cabinet or of the National Assembly. The Minister said of this decision: “With this decision by SJC and the Ministry of Education, Belize sits at the table with such distinguished institutions of higher learning as … As a product myself of high-quality Jesuit education, I am very proud to have made this decision …” He wasn’t explicit on how much this ‘decision’ was going to be costing us as tax-payers of the country.

Though some significant others among us believe that the latter ‘policy decision’ was a good one, including a former Minister of Education, who said that “I too have no doubt that the Jesuits will make a success of it and Belize and Belizeans will benefit”, other observers believe that, as one of them puts it: “Dr. B, my Brother, Francis is allying with the Catholic Church for the next fight for the leadership [of the PUP]”.

This is just one example, to me, of the twists and turns of this unique and at times bewildering public policy landscape that currently prevails in Belize. We all need to get a better handle of how policymaking and implementation are accomplished in the country, who is powerful and who is not, and how public policy affects individuals and society, so that we can arrive at our own assessments of how effectively contemporary political institutions and leaders can deal with our issues. This becomes even more urgent as Belizeans are beginning to insists on more straight talk from politicians about which combination of priorities are compatible with our national interest and which are not.

Please use the column below to challenge any or all of the claims made in the above piece, and let’s get this discussion on politics and public policy going.

Dr. Dоrіаn Ваrrоw іѕ сurrеntlу wоrkіng аt Gаlеn Unіvеrѕіtу аѕ thе Dеаn оf thе Dераrtmеnt оf Еduсаtіоn. Не hаѕ а lоng hіѕtоrу оf іnvоlvеmеnt іn еduсаtіоn іn Веlіzе, hаvіng ѕеrvеd аѕ а Lесturеr аt thе Unіvеrѕіtу оf Веlіzе, аnd аѕ Сhіеf Ехесutіvе Оffісеr іn thе Міnіѕtrу оf Еduсаtіоn. Dr. Ваrrоw іѕ аn еmіnеnt рrоfеѕѕіоnаl whо іѕ wеll rеѕресtеd bоth lосаllу аnd аbrоаd. Не іѕ ѕеrvіng аѕ аn еdіtоrіаl mеmbеr аnd rеvіеwеr оf ѕеvеrаl іntеrnаtіоnаl rерutеd јоurnаlѕ аnd hаѕ аuthоrеd mаnу rеѕеаrсh аrtісlеѕ/bооkѕ rеlаtеd tо еduсаtіоn. Араrt frоm еduсаtіоn, hе іѕ аlѕо а ѕроrtѕ еnthuѕіаѕt.


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