What was exposed in a particularly graphic way during 2007 was how enormous is the power of the Prime Minister in Belize’s constitutional democracy, especially when that Prime Minister has a large majority of seats. The reason the enormous nature of the Prime Minister’s power was exposed that year was because it appeared that a genuine national movement had emerged to oppose the use of public funds to pay the Universal Health Services (UHS) debt, and yet Prime Minister Said Musa, seemingly a single man, waited until the last possible moment to yield to the popular will, if only temporarily.
The Prime Minister only appears to be a single man, because his constitutional position derives from the fact that the Governor General, Belize’s titular head of state, is “convinced” that the Prime Minister is the individual who has the support of the majority of the area representatives who belong to the political party with the majority in the House of Representatives. Those House majority area representatives, for their part, have received the majority of the votes of the registered and voting adult electors of Belize. (There may have been an exception to this rule in 1993, when the UDP standard bearers received a couple thousand votes fewer, overall, than the PUP candidates.)
The fact that the Governor General, who owes his ultimate allegiance to the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is Belize’s head of state, surely suggests and perhaps even indicates, that Belize is in some kind of status subordinate to the aforementioned Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. (I will return to this “status” later in the essay.)
It may be, based on the recent votes of the trade unions and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry where the matter of using social security funds to purchase Telemedia (BTL) shares is concerned, that this will become Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s UHS moment, so to speak. Popular opposition to the use of social security funds to buy BTL shares has hardly reached the level of the UHS uproar, but if the issue becomes at any point to be absolutely vital to the leadership of the Prime Minister, then the constitutional fact of the matter is that he has the power to bull his way through.
As Mr. Musa was ending his first term of office in late 2002 and commencing his second term in early 2003, I found that he was becoming a man on the road to intransigence. I am sure that he would say, or ask, in his defence, where was the evidence. It was more a mood, I would submit, which was becoming evident to me, and that mood consisted of an attitude wherein he would not allow himself to be pressured. Personally, I had always thought politics was about the way politicians adjust to pressures in order to establish and maintain consensus. I did not appreciate how awesome the Prime Minister’s power was, and yes, how dangerous it is, until the time of the UHS crisis in 2007.
In the several weeks leading up to Belize’s political independence on September 21, 1981, I had been scandalized by the arrogance of Prime Minister George Price’s power where the issue of Belize’s proposed national flag was concerned. Remember, these were weeks then when it appeared that Mr. Price and his government would insist on what the rest of us Belizeans viewed as a PUP flag, becoming Belize’s national flag. The compromise decision to add the two horizontal strips of red came very late in that ball game. I am positive of this, but it is never discussed.
The thing is, Mr. Price had become such an institution by 1981 insofar as his personality was concerned (and remember that he had been initially “First Minister” in 1961, and later Premier, in fact was “Premier” in those weeks before independence), that in 1981 I did not focus on the concept of the Prime Minister’s power the way I began to do at the time of the UHS matter.
There had been a group of Belizeans who began to hold serious discussions on the matter of political reform soon after the young lions of the PUP were elected to government in August of 1998. It had appeared to be a government, partly because of Prime Minister Musa’s personal history, which would be open to progressive and nationalistic suggestions. That reformist group of Belizeans included Godwin Hulse, Patrick Rogers, and Carolyn Trench-Sandiford. I did not personally give the group the respect they, their colleagues, and their deliberations deserved. For this, I apologize. Still, I learned from this group, and I felt that the active participation in the reform group of Kremandala’s late Edgar X Richardson, represented institutional respect for the initiative.
In any case, it will be of interest and importance to analyze how our relatively new Prime Minister behaves as this critical Telemedia vs SpeedNet confrontation unfolds. In my opinion, the Prime Minister continues to make two mistakes which are costing him credibility amongst the roots as he battles the Chichester dragon. The ultimate reason why the Chichester dragon is so fearsome no doubt has much to do with this complex, unspecified relationship between the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, on the one part, and the independent nation-state of Belize, on the other. Remember, everyone in the House of Representatives has to swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth I and “her heirs and successors.” Exactly what the hell does this mean when push comes to shove?
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.