REPORT #79 June 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust
Back in 1995, the book "The Future of Belize is Yours to Make!" called out for a better handling of crime in Belize. One problem was the death penalty. Belize and other Caribbean countries members of the British Commonwealth ( old ex-colonies ) could not hang anyone. In the book, the example of Singapore was given. A place were the death penalty was a deterrent and carried out swiftly in certain unambigious cases.

In Belize, the problem was the Privy Council in England, the last court of appeals for many Commonwealth countries. The legal process had got so bogged down, that a ruling in England stating that prisoners held longer than 5 years on death row were suffering inhuman punishment and should not be hanged. Nobody could meet the time limit requirements and so around the world, including Belize, a backlog of convicted persons for murder, built up. Their sentences commuted by the Privy Council, by default, to life imprisonment. Singapore seemed to have a solution.

In 1996, the then Prime Minister of Belize, Manual Esquivel invited a party of police to come from Singapore and look at the situation in Belize. It turned out that they found out that the appeals process was the major problem. What happened next we do not know. Did Prime Minister Esquivel take up the subject with other Caricom countries? By 1999, the other Caricom countries had got together and decided that they were going to do away with the Privy Council in England and make their own Caricom Court of Appeals in the Caribbean. The process is still slowly ongoing at a Caribbean 'manana' pace. The motto of many Caribbean countries is" never do today, what you can put off until tomorrow".

At the time, the past Prime Minister of Belize, Manuel Esquivel came under some criticism, from the Amandala, a local port newspaper, for wanting to find ways to put murderers on death row, to the hangman's scaffold. Singapore itself was criticized as being an intolerant authoratorian country. The laws are harsh and administered quickly, including flogging as a penalty.

Another thing about Singapore, is that they do not have the resources of Belize in agriculture, forestry and tourist physical attractions. All they have is their human resources. Yet, in South East Asia, Singapore is an economic dynamo. Even back then a few years ago, they actively sought and encouraged with government aid, the technological information revolution. Everybody had access to computers. They were way ahead of the times and staying on the cutting edge of economic benefits from technological innovation and encouragement. There is much jealousy in South East Asia and also from Belize, in this economic success feat of Singapore's. The policies in Belize are more geared to political enrichment of party representatives, telecommunications monopolies and other sort of regulatory monopolies and investment business restrictions. The jealousy and envy in the Caribbean stems from Singapore's successes and the failure experienced in Belize and by the rest of the Caribbean countries.

Since, the past four years, the computer revolution in Belize has meandered along. Some private individuals in Belize have acquired superior skills as good as anywhere in the rest of the world, but they are few in number and face overwhelming obstacles. The country of Belize as a whole has not benefited from any enlightened leadership, in this regard. Some education establishments have developed computer labs, and at least one College in the Capital is now offering computer connected courses. Most schools and nearly all villages are still deprived, not only of computer technology, but in some cases the basic infra structure such as telephone ground lines and electricity.

The problems have been identified by the private sector as a too centralized system, monopolies (disguised and overt) that restrict competition, a political structure of government that rewards elected party representatives with too much power and caters to their personal greed and a government that has not insisted in opening up a number of fields to private enterprise investment and competition. Electrical production is still monopolized, telecommunications is still monopolized, transportation is politically regulated to the point of monopoly and the same story can be said for most endeavors. The climate for investment and competition simply does not exist in Belize under the current political structure as it works.

On the other hand, if we look again at Singapore, some four years later; we find that Singapore has now gone to the next level of new information age technology. Instead of trying to micromanipulate the economy or interfer with private competition, the Singapore government has concentrated on strengthening what is becoming the most modern national information infrastructure in the world. By the Fall of 1999, every household in this tiny state with 3.2 million people will be hooked up to the Internet. Not only that, it will not be the internet of yesteryear, but the multi-media internet of 1999-2000. A quantum leap in applications. Where schools could not be rewired to suit the information structure techonology, they are being torn down and rebuilt with the new wiring built in.

Interestingly enough, the Asian crash only effected Singapore slightly. During 1998 and 1999 their economy was at a zero growth rate. But Hong Kong and Malaysia backtracked and are still struggling with their laissez-faire policies. Korea has collapsed and is slated to deflate even more.

Singapore has responded by embracing globalization. They are releasing policies and incentives to ensure that Singapore emerges as the preeminent business hub in Asia. The government is supplying a high-speed broadband network for everyone. This network is operating at one hundred times the speed of the standard dialup modems used by the Belize Telecommunications Monopoly in Belize. Singapore ONE, as the network is called, is three years ahead of anything else in the world. Home computers and private competitive businesses are now getting movie quality video, sound and music, interactive multimedia software applications and educational services such as classes with live teachers, with voice, sound, music and lessons are carried into every home, real time. IBM digital library will be replacing most library facilities, both public and in schools. The same multi-media software is being applied to data bases and business. The rapidly modernizing IT backbone is based on the principal of build the superhighway information capability and the economy will boom and investment will continue. Connectivity will attract cyberactive multinationals. This committment to the future permeates the whole government from the top down. Already, banking, government services such as licenses, permits, bids on government contracts, import export customs clearances, etc., are already done from your office, or home by the computer. Belize is still trying to catch up to the Singapore of five years ago. Yet, Belize has more natural resources.

Infra structure in Belize, particularly those covered by monopolies has lagged behind what private enterprise could do, if not thwarted by the policies and restrictions coming out of an outdated feudal governing structure. The politically controlled centralized bureaucracy is strangling development. Enabling legislation has not been forthcoming and micromanagement by politicians with an overweight number of cabinet posts, solely based for personal enrichment in the form of salaries, expenses, vehicles, travel trips, pensions and separation gifts, is simply causing Belize to stagnate as a little Banana Republic in the languid tropical sun of Central America.

There are two views of Belize. One, is that of the visitor, tourist, or retiree. To them Belize is a PARADISE! They bring money and want to play and relax. For someone with money and no need to work, Belize is indeed a recreational paradise. The other view is of the entrepreneur, both the Belizean entrepreneur and the foreigner; to them Belize is a country of difficulty and obstacles. Trying to make a living is something else. Tax cuts are not even in the lexicon of party politics. More taxes to pay for the bloated bureaucracy, growing national debt and the incestuous growth of the political patronage system are the rule. Government promises are worthless commodities some investors say. They tell you what they think you want to hear. Such an attitude is a cultural thing. Belizeans hate to offend foreigners.

Singapore and Belize, the Caricom countries and Singapore, very different results from different systems.

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