REPORT #106 Sept 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

(Devils Advocate position)


After 40 years of home rule, self government and independence, the crowd in Belmopan the capital of the small country of Belize have finally thrown in the towel. They cannot control the civil service, nor give the six district towns and estimated 500 villages, government services.

Abuse by the police of human rights and violations of law and procedures is so common, that only in the case of exceptions when it occurs to foreigners does the press print anything on police abuse.

After 40 years, basic government services still do not exist in most Belizean communities. You cannot get a drivers license, a passport, or many other such common government services in most communities, or a telephone, safe drinking water, or electricity in too many cases.

It isn't for debate, or ability to provide such things; it is the tangled power politics and African style city-state politics that are the basic problems. It isn't for lack of good governing examples, there are a number of cooperatives and associations that provide examples of successful participatory democracy throughout the nation of Belize.

The political parties are the main problem and culprit with this sad state of affairs. They refuse to let participatory democracy flourish. National party power politics is centered in only one of six district towns. The old port and ancient one- time capital of the old British colony. Through the concentration of population and population centered voter systems; enclosed in a single layer pyramid hieracheal political structure; political power is concentrated in this old port. The policy over the last 40 years by both major political parties has been to consolidate and concentrate the majority of development and investment in the old port, for control of power voting blocs and through these, control of the Treasury, taxes and credit worthiness of Belize to make foreign loans to support their political lifetime career lifestyles. Like Africa, this is creating a megapolis city-state, accompanied with shanty towns and a permanent increasing poverty disenfranchised class, with no dignity, or hope of any. Yet, it didn't have to be this way. The country has a small population and lots of good land for farming and self subsistance agriculture. Belizeans are land rich. They may be poor, but can be poor with dignity, food, a roof over their heads and a piece of land.

Unable to handle, or control the civil service and unwilling to let go the reins of power and share power with the six districts in local government multiple layers, accompanied by standard democratic checks and balances; the political parties have selfishly kept policy making, political power and the dictatorial system tightly held in the hands of an elite half dozen, who control the winning political party apparatus in the old colonial port town.

The appointment of Ombudsman, Paul Rodriguez is a sop to the complaining masses. It is also an admission of failure to adapt to the needs of developing the nation. While the Ombudsman post is touted by the party elite in the capital Belmopan as a good thing, it is more an excercise in double speak and cynical power politics than any serious erosion of centralized political power. The Ombudsman is passed off as a National six district service; but in reality, in a country that has a per capita average income of $2000 per person,( by government figures) the services of the Ombudsman is restricted mainly to the one district capital town, out of the six district capitals and to perhaps three nearby villages, like Sandhill, Ladyville and such. The cost of availing oneself of Ombudsman services for the rest of the six district nation towns are estimated to run from $75 to $400 dollars in travel expenses, hotels, meals, days lost and taxi fares. If you had to make more than one trip to his brand new office, it would cost astronomical portions of your average annual income for the average citizen. Already costing nearly one quarter of your annual income to avail yourself of any theoretical Ombudsman services, for the average citizen in the other five districts of the country. It is even expensive for many villages in the same Belize District in which the old port town lies. The Ombudsman has no legislative power to fire civil servants, prosecute perpetrators like corrupt police, or defend citizens from human rights abuses. His post is a sham!

Like Ombudsmen appointments worldwide, the post is a political gambit and rear guard action by political parties to defend their turf against complaints from citizens. To show these political leader/rulers mean well, but are helpless. It is all a lie of course! The political parties have been fighting a rearguard action against the dissemination of political power and policy sharing for 30 years, with vague promises of eventual local governments held out to out-district constituents. For nearly 13 recent years, there has been a concerted civil campaign to diffuse political power and apply democratic principals of veto on policy making, petitions for referendums, through various strategms and re-structuring of the Constitution and political power. Both major political parties continue to offer platitudes, slogans and promises without any action. The Ombudsman office by political observers is judged an expression of defeat and defiance. The current system cannot supply good managed government, does not supply fairness, does not supply control of civil servants and the bureaucracy, police and military arms. Nor will the Ombudsman make any difference. He may satisfy some citizens in the home base of power politics in the port town and a couple of villages, but otherwise the whole Ombudsman affair is a "red herring", a distraction. A piece of cosmetic tinkering to give the appearance that the parties controlling the country really care. The whole affair could easily be solved by major constitutional reform, giving district governments; district shares of national revenue, basic autonomy, and local management. With veto power over national policy, the foreign debt loans and final decision making, Belize would be a vastly improved different place, but it is unlikely to become so without a revolution. The career political party mafioso will defend their priviliges and perks to the end.

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