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Lessons from Peru

Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2023. 1:03 pm CST.

Тhе vіеwѕ ехрrеѕѕеd іn this аrtісlе аrе those оf the writer аnd nоt nесеѕѕаrіlу those оf Вrеаkіng Веlіzе Nеwѕ.

Contributed by Amb. F. Daniel Gutierez: There are Belizeans who are enamoured with the separation of powers common place in many republics. We have grown up on a steady diet of American Television that regularly touts the benefits of congressional oversight and an executive branch that is held to account by the men and women of unblemished character and of principled patriotism who act as guardians against an executive branch run amok.

 I will argue however, that this is a childish caricature of real life and a system such as this will not work in Belize. To the contrary, it will make our already imperfect democracy messy and exacerbate the political tribalism that infests this nation. Our already politically sceptical younger generations who make up the majority of Belizeans and whose interest in the political system the future of our democracy depends on, will further loose interest in political participation. That would be a tragedy.

I chose the headline for a reason. As I write this piece many Peruvians have been killed by security forces that do the dirty work for a regime that is politically and morally bankrupt. The legally elected president of Peru was by design never allowed to rule by congress and in return, he masterminded a coup which ended up facilitating his ouster and incarceration. A result that is quite in line with 500 years of keeping those of indigenous decent out of the halls of power. I am sure this is a gross oversimplification of what is a complex, historically charged and difficult situation. It is for Belizeans though, a lesson in political dysfunction and a manifestation of what happens in a society that has deep rooted and unreconcilable political tribalism. Sounds familiar?

 It is no secret that Belize’s system of governance needs improvement. Like many Belizeans I welcome a constitutional review to try to find ways to improve it. But I do fear a copy and paste result where our current framers bend to the sugar coated allure of separation of powers and oversight as practised by other nations like Peru. I hope I am wrong and that they choose to shun this path. I understand completely how this model is attractive on paper. In one such model, and there are several nations that use this version not only Peru, the executive branch proposes how the state’s resources are to be deployed, after that men and women of character and with nation at heart get to the work of looking through it, make amends and then and only then will they approve. Sounds great! Except in many instances it does not work like that at all. Stories from around the world abound, of representatives taking bribes in cash and kind to ensure that the “budget passes”. In the United States political commentators regularly call out the “pork” in the budget or underscore how certain projects in certain regions benefit from the way the laws are written.

How many times have we not heard of imminent government shut downs, because the one branch of government is constitutionally enabled to stop the executive from governing. Let me be very clear, I support oversight, I would argue emphatically that the way the nation’s purse is managed needs to be audited by persons who do not work for the very people doing the spending. That oversight and audit should not be put in the hands of other politicians or the same politicians doing the spending or anyone who reports to them, it must be entrusted to a constitutionally mandated and enabled entity whose chain of command does not end in a politician. There are ways to do this and should we choose to remove the King of England as our head of state, there can be practical employment for the holder of that office that is devoid of political tribalism and responds to the overwhelming clamour of this nation’s electorate for an end to corruption. That however is for an equally needed but separate discussion.

The point I wish to make here is that we ought not go for fool’s gold. The Belizeans with the herculean responsibility of proposing a new constitution must take the time to come up with something that works for Belize. They cannot copy and paste no matter how attractive the model looks. Our political system is riddled with tribalism and spitefulness. If we make the mistake of empowering tribalism and put it on steroids with a constitutional ability to stop the government from governing, then we are ruining the last bit of our system that actually hobbles along.

When I had the honour of serving our nation in Washington DC, I would regularly educate people who lumped Belize in with other Central American countries of political ill repute. I made it very clear that in Belize when a political party lost an election, it packed up and went home, by the end of the following day we had a new government. Those were the marching orders of the people, period. That part of our democracy has proven to work, we should guard it.

In a functional democracy, governments must be allowed to govern. The result of free and fair elections express the will of the people, and that will must be respected. When you have a parliament that is elected completely separate of the executive, and you empower that parliament to stop governance in real time, you booby trap the system of governance and end up with an already lethargic government that then becomes stuck in the proverbial political mud. Another way to characterise a system of parliamentary oversight that can bring governance to a stop, is to call it what it is, meaning the potential election and empowerment of two different sets of political egos and ambitions from differing political parties in constitutional vehicles that have real power. Guess what you end up with Peru.

 For those hell bent on focusing on a runaway executive, it is worth emphasizing that the executive branch must be held to account and their decisions and deployment of resources must be audited. No arguments there. I argue though, that of equal importance in a system that functions, the executive branch must be allowed to govern. Should we end up with a system that muddies the waters by creating a constitutional vehicle that allows some politicians of one party to stop a government from fulfilling the mandate upon which it was elected, then that’s political dysfunction at its best. In that scenario we all loose. If you don’t believe me ask our friends from Peru, some of them paying with their lives at this very moment.


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