REPORT #37 Jan 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Attacking the Freedom of the Press! In Belize, like most authoritarian countries with party strong man dictatorships, elected or not, the Freedom of the Press is considered by the political party few, to be a privilege, not a Universal Right.

In Belize, nothing happens without permission of a cabinet minister. In most cases there is conivance of several cabinet ministers and often a couple of Permanent Secretaries of departments. Remember the UDP and the Forestry contract scandals of last political term? Certainly, the recent BEL electrical monopoly could not bring the suit for libel against the REPORTER newspaper, without instructions from one or more of the cabinet ministers. For Belize is micro-managed down to the smallest farm holder, in one form or another. This is obviously an attack on the FREEDOM of the PRESS.

What caused this action by someone in the Cabinet? The Chalillo Dam project! The Reporter newspaper has had some outspoken investigative reporters doing digging on the economics of a proposed Chalillo hyrdo dam, that will cost the Belizean taxpayer some $150 million outright and nearly a billion over the next 30 to 50 years. This is big bucks! Somebody is going to make some good money off this project. Who?

Well probably several somebodies. Certainly, if I was a cabinet minister, I think I would want about a $50 million deposit in a secret offshore bank account to push this thing through. Considering whoever gets to handle the cash flow can skim off it, as BEL is going to be privatized and the interest payments over the decades and future Belizean generations will amount to around $8.5 HUNDRED millions also. Presuming you have to bribe at least two cabinet ministers, and two permanent secretaries we are probably looking at a done deal for about $150 million baksheesh to spread around. W'ere not talking cement contracts and earthmoving contracts yet either.

So, big money is involved here. Belmopan wallahs tried the talking and rational reasoning routine, but it got swamped with outside technical expertise. It showed they were basically lying. Then somebody made a very big mistake. While others were using a government spokesman to use typical British colonial monarchist double talk, with studies, platitudes and all those delaying promises while things continue to move ahead on the political front, the behind the scenes stuff. One mysterious bigwig made the mistake of telling one person in opposition to the project that it was a done deal and she should shut up! That was a mistake. For the ZOO keeper might be a little crazy on the protection of animals and that outlook would be discounted by an understanding general public. BUT when she said that a mysterious bigwig tried to shut her up and that he said it was a done deal, while the government spokesman was printing and pushing the official line that nothing would be decided until the studies were in, the "CAT WAS OUT OF THE BAG!"

Nor could the official BEL spokesman present any contrary convincing economic and statistical arguments to counter conservationists and others who objected to the Chalillo Dam on different grounds. The deal was starting to smell to all and sundry, like a boatload of rotten fish.

The real give-a-way that compounded the troubles of somebody in the Cabinet was the authorization to attack the FREEDOM OF THE PRESS, by utilizing BEL funds and personel to launch an attack on the leading newspaper, that had investigative reporters doing articles on different aspects of the subject from a debating viewpoint. Belize being Belize, this action cannot be construed as an independent act of BEL. It can only originate with someone in the CABINET, of appointed Ministers of the controlling PUP party. The gambit is recognized for what it is! Intimidation, financial hardship and punishment and abuse of position as an elected representative. Pure corruption and misuse of office in other words.

Another nail in the coffin of this PUP Cabinet corruption scandal is the fact that cries for a NATIONAL REFERENDUM to decide the Chalillo Dam issue met with a deafening silence on the one hand and on the other an alternative red herring, with announcements that a REFERENDUM would be held to select a town board for Belmopan. This an obvious political gambit to justify the REFERENDUM ACT political clamor and requests, while ignoring the Chalillo Dam call for a National Referendum.

The Referendum ACT you will recall was maliciously gutted when the PUP came first into power a year ago. They promised to put in the REFERENDUM ACT, but gutted it of any petition capabilities before they did so. It is an ACT without cajones!

How this will all play out, is anybody's guess! We do live in an authoritarian state after all. Political party members in control of the government are elected dictators and own all the power strings, from police, courts, army and rubber stamp legislature and Senate. Even BEL is controlled, as is the Transportation Board through party appointed favorites.

It's a shame the PUP has to go this way. They really looked to show such promise last year. But if this corruption scandal, the first of this five year term is any indication; more will be coming down the pipeline as opportunity knocks. Any government after all is government by personal human greed. The systems of government are usually designed to limit the venal aspects of personal greed, though it never disappears. In our authoritarian system, there are no checks and balances, public veto's or referendums by petitions.

The smart thing to do, would be cut the losses and cancel the lawsuit. The second thing, change whoever it is in the cabinet that gives the impression of trying to get rich quick. The third thing, get the PUP back on track and implement a horizontal participatory government structure with checks and balances by changing the Belize Constitution. Impressions are everything!

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