Address to The Rotary Club of Belize
By: Francis Gegg
March 13, 2002
"NO STATE CAN BE TRULY DEMOCRATIC IF IT OFFERS NO ESCAPE FROM POVERTY; AND NO COUNTRY CAN TRULY DEVELOP, SO LONG AS ITS PEOPLE ARE EXCLUDED FROM POWER"
repeat again slowly
We might ask the question, what does the forementioned statement have to do with Belize? After all we are a Parliamentary Democracy based on the Westminster model, handed to us by our British Colonial Masters on September 21, 1981. The real question is, does this model work for us the way it works for them? The answer is a resounding No, absolutely Not. We are a democracy in words and we go through some of the processes of democracy such as going to the polls every five years or so to elect our leaders. But in reality when it comes to a functional democracy ours is a total and complete failure.
Our Constitution attempts to set down three separate institutions which supposedly form the basis of our democracy: The Legislature, The Executive, The Judiciary. In actual fact what happens in reality, is: Fourteen or so Legislators by a majority above party loyal backbenchers, who don't have the good fortune to be selected by their Prime Minister, become The Executive (Cabinet--OUR MONARCH).These all powerful ministers, then exercise total and complete dominance over the very Legislature from which they derive their power; a simple case of the tail wagging the dog. The Prime Minister and CABINET then appoint a Majority Senate, which is in actual fact another branch of our Legislature; and we have more tail wagging the dog.
Our system in actual fact simply just does not work. Every five years we the voting public transfer ABSOLUTE POWER to a different group of leaders who have made us bigger and better promises, and every five years our hopes and expectations come crashing down as disappointment after disappointment crush our lofty dreams and expectations soon into the next administration.
The scratched record, clich», which I will repeat until every voter in this nation understands very clearly; until they get tired of hearing it said, was echoed by Thomas Jefferson, a founding father of the greatest democracy in the history of mankind. He said ,"I've lived a long life, and I've seen many good men gone wrong. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". If we give our leaders Absolute Power, how can we expect anything from them but ABSOLUTE CORRUPTION?
Our present system gives total and complete unconscionable power to a very small group of elite inner circle members of Cabinet. Those who have wielded this power know fully well the awesomeness of it as do those who have suffered bitterly at its abuse.
The PUP SET BELIZE FREE STRIKE THREE MANIFESTO states very clearly, "The UDP rulers have shown that they are bent on achieving absolute power, whether by hijacking the House of Representatives, or by manipulating the judicial system. Ministers commit crimes, squander the country's resources and ride roughshod over the people. Their administration has provided the strongest arguments for urgent political reform. The PUP will continue to take seriously the cry of the people for meaningful reform and consult closely with Civil Society in the design and implementation of this reform. The PUP will ensure a real separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches and reduce the power of ministers to make or bend laws." They knew fully well what was wrong with the system then.
Let us assume that these statements were indeed truthful, and that the UDP did act as the PUP accused them. Obviously having suffered in the extreme at the hand of these oppressors, one would think that at the very first opportunity, they would have done whatever necessary to prevent such abuses from ever happening again. They haven't touched the system.
The people certainly believed, and in a resounding lopsided landslide victory gave them, the PUP the tremendous majority in the House, whereby they could make the necessary changes to the way we are governed thereby removing this absolute power and improving our democracy so that it might for the first time become a functional one.
In his speech to the newly formed Political Reform Commission, Prime Minister Musa had this to say,"I would like to think that you all feel a duty not to any individual organization, but to the nation as a whole. The people of Belize are depending on you to carry out fair and fearless consultations and deliberations and to make timely and worthy recommendations that will enhance our democracy and give our people a greater stake in their nation. I was deliberately general in describing your duties and functions; to review the system of governance and make recommendations for its improvement, whether by amendments to the constitution or the laws or otherwise, with a view to achieving greater democracy and justice. This means that you can range as widely as you wish, or as your consultations require. Regard no institution, no law, no policy or practice as sacred. The only sacred thing I would ask you to observe is the principle that the will of the people forms the basis of good government, and that therefore we must strive to broaden and deepen our democracy and ensure that people have the greatest possible say in decisions affecting their lives". What beautiful words from a man who obviously knows the meaning of a true democracy.
The UDP it would seem in contriteness after their embarrassment at the polls participated in this quest for a better way to govern ourselves. Douglas Singh, representing the UDP on the Commission signed without any dissenting perspective in complete support of the PRC's many recommendations.
In particular recommendations number 43 and 44 advocated a proportionately elected Senate as the best way to separate the powers between the Legislature and the Executive, and thus usher in for the first time in our history a functional system of governance which includes a real and meaningful sharing of power between the two legitimate institutions which represent the people's power, the House and the Senate, who would then give power to the Executive to govern under the mandate of accountability and transparency. In effect a system of checks and balances which never existed before would be for the first time introduced.
At the request of the Leader of The Opposition, our Coordinator of Concept, Mr. Godwin Hulse met with both Mr. Singh and Mr. Barrow, shortly after it became public knowledge that there was a political movement named We The People in the makings. Mr. Barrow of course was trying to get Godwin to become involved in the UDP. However he was not at any time prepared to accept Godwin's position that there was anything wrong with our system of governance. He maintained that it was the people who caused the system to fail, and so all that was needed was to find better people.
Godwin on the other hand passionately maintained that even if he, Godwin, went to Belmopan under the existing system he might also be corrupted, and so he could never take that risk, and that is why he had never before sought elective office. I guess Godwin was heeding TJ's caution that he'd seen many good men gone wrong, and he didn't want to go wrong.
In private conversations with both Doug Singh and Oscar Ayuso of the UDP, both indicated to members of WTP that they supported our Senate Proposals. However, the Leaving No One Behind interim UDP Manifesto produced extremely watered down political reform with recommendations for more appointed Senators. This document totally and completely abrogated any intention of living up to their signed agreement in the PRC Final Report that the UDP would support meaningful political reform through an elected Senate. Obviously, Dean Barrow, has no intention of giving up or sharing power through an elected Senate, should he become the next Prime Minister.
In the last fourteen months those of us involved in the We The People Reform Movement have spent many countless hours, over 26 meetings, under the instruction and guidance of a man who knows the laws and Constitution of this country and how they function, probably better than anyone else in Belize. Godwin's knowledge of how we are governed is not just limited to our Belizean democracy, but that of the entire commonwealth and in particular the mother of them all, Britain.
In the fervent hope that the Musa government would live up to its manifesto promise of meaningful political reform, under Godwin's guidance, the We The People Reform Movement crafted a Senate Reform Proposal which inculcated all the criteria which would have created this meaningful and functional democracy. After bringing our document to a significantly refined Senate Proposal, we solicited and won support from a wide cross section of Civil Society to support our proposals. Some organizations which signed on to the WTP proposals included: SPEAR, BCCI and BBB, Council of Churches, BNTU, and about twenty others. We lobbied intensely from all corners of Belizean society for support of our Elected Senate Proposal. We were fervent in the belief and hope that the PUP would do the right thing with regard to meaningful political reform and introduce a new Senate based on our proposals and Civil Society's.
The proposed bill, Amendment IV, to our Constitution was a clear warning that Musa intended to completely back track on his promise of meaningful political reform. The new Senate recently appointed by the Governor General is a bold faced abomination and betrayal by Said Musa and his government to bring meaningful political reform. Once again our country and people are held hostage to a system of governance which simply just doesn't work. The newly constituted Senate is just another PUP controlled rubber stamp Senate. In no way does it come close to the lofty ideals which Musa challenged the PRC to seek. In no way does it separate the powers between the Legislative and Executive branches of government. In no way does it broaden or deepen our democracy. In no way does it give people greater say in decisions affecting their lives. Musa's deceit and hypocrisy on meaningful political reform are staring us glaringly in the face.
It is obvious that the next government under the UDP would be no different than the last, as Mr. Barrow has shown very clearly that he will not engage in meaningful dialogue on political reform. He resorts to promises of good governance, rather than giving us a system which will ensure it.
No country can truly develop, so long as its people are excluded from power, and one thing is certain, our current system excludes the people from any meaningful involvement in governance.
Is it any wonder then that we see our beloved Belize slipping day by day into that arena commonly known as "FAILED THEATER". The jackings and shootings, the seemingly endless and unstoppable robberies are true and clear indicators that our economy is indeed a mean one as is deformed our democracy. Was Honorable Jorge Espat's caution not a case of "fish from riva bottom, telling us that halligata had a real case of pain a belly".
We call ourselves a democratic country, but are we really? Have we created a system or safety net in which all our citizens can eat from the trough of plenty? Or does life in the ghetto just get harder by the day? Hollywood glamorized Robin Hood of Sherwood forest fame, and we all paid money to see Errol Flynn and Kevin Costner take from the King and the Nobles to feed the poor. The only difference between those jackings and today's is that they used bow and arrows then, today we use 9mms and AK47s. The volcano of anger that Jorge talked about is just now erupting, and I wonder if ," we have'nt seen anything yet".
Statistics provided by professionals in the field of economics tell us that from 1990 to 1998, three years of PUP and five years of UDP governance, of the total foreign investment in the region of 8 billion US dollars, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Panama received 30%, 28%, 16%. Belize finished up a shameful second to last place with 1.8% of total foreign investment in the region. To give these figures more meaning Costa Rica earned 2.4 billion, DR earned 2.24 billion, Panama earned 1.28 billion and Belize earned a mere 144 million dollars over eight years.
These figures are nothing less than shameful statistics which clearly indicate that there is something very wrong with the investment climate in Belize. Those billions of dollars invested created for their country's economies hundreds of thousands of sustainable jobs paying fair to good wages, earning surpluses of US dollars for their economies. We practically got left out. The question is why? Why did all that foreign investment just pass us by? Could that 64 dollar question be a simple term called "Legal Certainty"? In the case of Costa Rica it was the second most important reason for Intel to invest 400 million in their factory there.
Legal Certainty, while not the only investment criteria, is certainly one of the primary ones when large multi nationals look at third world countries as possible investment destinations. We in Belize under subsequent PUP and UDP administrations have had only one kind of legal certainty, the certainty that sooner or later you're bound to get legally shafted by one or the other. And we wonder why no one serious invests in Belize. It doesn't take an Albert Einstien to figure this one out.
I must at this time commend the Hon. Godfrey Smith for bringing our Judiciary back from the brink of the abyss, where it had been taken by Mr. Barrow and previous PUP administrations. Confidence in our Judiciary is only now being restored after years of utter and complete collapse. It is regrettable that he didn't take it further, but then again with those he's got to contend with in Cabinet, it's amazing he's been able to do anything at all. An independent Judiciary is very much an ingredient of Legal Certainty. The Meerabux matter certainly didn't help, but hopefully we're well rid of him now.
I hope that through this presentation you are better able to understand the nexus between economic development and good governance. It is very simple, you cannot hope to get one without the other.
And so for us the solution is a very simple one. We must first ensure a functional democracy by separating the powers between the Legislature and the Executive and limiting the powers of the Executive. By doing so we will for the first time in our country's history be putting in place a system which really works.
The We The People Reform Movement Senate Proposal does just that. It has become obvious to us that neither the UDP or PUP intend to strip themselves of this unconscionable power, and so it is for this reason that we are stepping forward to make the necessary changes ourselves. We will be fielding 29 candidates for the upcoming general elections with the specific promise to the electorate that our HOLY GRAIL is an ELECTED SENATE. If given the mandate that would be our first undertaking.
Of course there are many other issues , and we are currently in the process of crafting our position and policies in regard to all other aspects of our society and good governance. As we complete them we intend to share them with the public for their input and concurrence.
If we could take a page out of Lee Kuan Yew's book,"From Third World to First World in Thirty Years", we might learn something. It took him thirty years to transform the Singaporean economy. His primary goal was to wipe out corruption at all levels of his society, but in particular corruption in government. Under his able stewardship the Singaporean economy grew from annual GDP of 5.8 billion with six hundred thousand working in 1970, to an astounding 147 billion with 1.8 million working in 1997. Gross per capita income grew from $2,825 in 1970, to a world leading 39,310 per capita income in 1997. Permanent Secretaries earn an unbelievable US 250 thousand dollars per year. Corruption has been completely extinguished at all levels in this tremendous economic model of success. Their elected president acts as the check and balance on Cabinet, and performs the same functions envisioned by our elected Senate.
Ours is a small country without the social pressures of huge populations. Our land when harnessed is bountiful and productive. Our people are friendly, literate and trainable. We have almost all the ingredients in Belize to transform our economy and society into the gliterring jewel of success in Central America and the Caribbean, as did Singapore in the Asian belt. The missing ingredient in this mix is called good governance, people involved in decisions which affect their lives, a functional democracy.
Sustainable economic development is certainly the major issue currently affecting us right now for everything else revolves and emanates from it. If I may presume to re- phrase Kofi Annan's piercing and true promise," Through a functional democracy which shares power with the people, we will be certain to bring sustained dramatic economic growth; thereby, creating economic opportunity and prosperity for all, banishing poverty forever from our shores".
We The People Reform Movement invite you today to join us in this noble task. Come let us join hands, roll up our sleeves and get down to the task of nation building. Together we can make our vision, our impossible dream --- reality.
I thank you.