For the first time in Belize, all the former and current Prime Ministers sat down on Wednesday night for a discussion on the country’s attainment of independence from Great Britain. The two hour long forum gave Belizeans a chance to hear first hand from the men who have led the country since Independence about their thoughts on the meaning of independence and their vision for the way forward. Both Prime Ministers Manuel Esquivel and Said Musa told the audience that they did not aspire for the top elected job in the country; but they were honored to have served as the nation’s second and third prime ministers respectively. Prime Minister Barrow said that for his part, contrary to his predecessors, he looked forward to being Prime Minister.

Sir Manuel Esquivel – Former Prime Minister
“I really never had any aspirations for politics but in the 1970’s with independence on the horizon, it was on everybody’s mind. We were in a situation where the People’s United Party under Mr. Price had won every single election, the then opposition was not gaining traction. I became very concerned along with a lot of other people that we should not go into Independence as a one party state so I was invited to join a group that was to be called the Liberal Party to try do something about building the credibility of the Opposition, trying to inject some new faces and new life into it so that it could become a credible party for winning elections and eventually becoming the Government.”

Rt. Hon. Said Musa – Former Prime Minister
But the truth like Sir Manuel, I never had ambitions to be an elected politician, I saw my future in the practice of law but as circumstances would have it, as history would have it, Sir Sandy Hunter got ill and he stepped down from the Fort George Division and retired from politics and I received a phone call from Mr. Price, this is how things was done in those days, and I visited him at his office and he asked me whether I would be interested in taking up the challenge in the Fort George Division. I ran in 1974, my first election and I lost and I can tell you that defeat is a great motivator for one to continue in politics, I don’t know the reason for this but it certainly serves as a great driving force within you, you cannot be that of a defeatist, you cannot give up so that to me was a great motivator, that defeat. Of course the rest is history, I went on to win my election in 79 and thereafter. In 1996 after having served in various capacities, Mr. Price, after 30 years of leading the party decided to step aside. We had a convention and I was chosen as the leader of the party and I was privileged to lead the People’s United Party to victory in 1998 thus becoming Prime Minister.”

The trio of Prime Ministers also gave their assessment of the major achievements Belize has attained since Independence.

Rt. Hon. Said Musa – Former Prime Minister
“Over these last thirty years to me it is a great accomplishment that we have been able to maintain our sovereignty and territorial integrity despite this unfounded claim from Guatemala. And we were able to do so in very difficult circumstances, we only need to look at the fact of our wide open borders that we have and indeed one can say we are still faced with the problems of the xateros and the encroaching, peasant farmers from Guatemala into Belizean territory does exist but when you look at the broad picture, the fact that we have been able to over all these years to maintain our sovereignty over this land that we call home, Belize to me is a great accomplishment.”

Sir Manuel Esquivel – Former Prime Minister
“There was the whole concept of developing the physical and the mental infrastructure of the nation which really needed a lot of work, so that in that first term in 1984, we occupied ourselves with those things, that is developing the infrastructure always with a view to using infrastructural development for the purpose of economic development, never for its own sake. And secondly economic development for the purpose of enabling the citizens of this new country to actually take control of their destiny and coming along with that development there was the need for many things in the area of education. We set our minds for example with the creation of what was then called the University College of Belize.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Nobody has mentioned it and I think in a sense it is because we have come to take it so much for granted, and that in itself is an accomplishment; the fact that we hold free and fair elections every five years. Since Independence our election cycle has never been marred by any kind of violence, it has resulted in an almost routine change of Government, except for Said insisting on being the odd man out and having won two consecutive terms. You know I still blame Bill Lindo for that, but anyway, he should never have allowed you to win that second election, I am talking about in Fort George. That is an amazing achievement. When you look at all that is happening in the world today, I certainly believe that we have to treasure that fact. I am saying that we don’t trumpet it, we take it for granted and that in itself underscores the value of it, we have managed this so easily that we can in fact take it for granted.”

Prime Minister Barrow says the fact that we have been able to construct a multi-ethnic, multi-racial democracy is also an outstanding achievement in the independent Belize. As for the way forward, the Prime Ministers had their vision of what they want to see Belize become as we press forward towards another thirty years of independence.

Sir Manuel Esquivel – Former Prime Minister
“I would like to see a Belize that has matured in every aspect, it’s not just government or politics but matured with having citizens who not only play a part in developing their own lives but the life of the country but also being able to see what are the elements that are required to achieve that."

Rt. Hon. Said Musa – Former Prime Minister
“I see a Belize where we will find more oil and be able to utilize the proceeds from that, through the tax system, some of it to put into a trust fund for future generations and some of it applied for projects in education, in health, in building sport facilities and so on. In other words I see, despite all our present problems, I have strong hope for a Belize in the future over the next 30 years if that is what you are asking me. And of course now the question is how are we going to that? We are going to do it be recognizing that Belize needs investment, we need local and foreign investment in our country, we need injection of capital into this economy.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“I want to see a greatly deepened reform process that will hold Government ministers and indeed public officers accountable. We are making some efforts in that direction, the Finance and Audit Act has been amended to provide for penalties, for criminal prosecutions of those that violate the provisions of the act. We have done some constitutional reform, the Referendum Act is far more user friendly. I want to see the Finance and Stores Orders that are the infrastructure, the administrative and financial infrastructure of Government, I want to see those revised and amended and again deepened in a way that will help to create the kind of systemic check and balance that is absolutely essential if we are going to broaden and strengthen our democracy.”

The Prime Minister’s Forum was organized by the National September Celebrations Commission as part of the ongoing activities leading to the celebration of out thirtieth Independence anniversary.

LOVEFM