Propter Salutem Nostram
It means enlightened self-interest. During our lifetime, we are going to be faced with a choice between a personal good and that of a group, of which we are a part. If we choose the personal good, there will be personal satisfaction, which may last for a little while. If we choose the good of the group, the satisfaction is multiplied and you will share in it. The latter choice would be in keeping with propter salutem nostram.
Here are some examples where the dictum would apply.
If you are an attorney, especially if you are just beginning your law practice, you would think that it is your good fortune that the level of crime, especially crimes of violence, is so high, because those accused would need to be defended. The established advocates would have more than they could handle so, jobs will be left for you. Hooray for crime. No, my friend, that is shortsighted. Your training does not equip you only to defend criminals. Of course, they are not criminals, not till they are convicted in a court of law and, you can prevent that and be well paid for your services.
Think about this: Have you added anything to the GNP, if your defense of a man accused of murder is successful? In economic terms, service is of value when it is added to a good. Is your service of value when the person you defended did commit murder and is now free? That is not your fault. You believed in his innocence and you were practicing a noble profession but, think of this. At least 95% of accused murderers are guilty. 5% or less are innocent. So. The chances of your successful defense being a service added to a good is about 1 to 19. I will concede that practicing your profession in an administration of justice system is itself a good, though it may have been better for society, in the present circumstances, had your efforts not succeeded.
On the face of it, an ordinary citizen, like myself, would have to say that the high incidence of crime in our country serves the interests of counsels for the defense. So. It is understandable and, has to be accepted that neither individual attorneys nor the Bar Association has any interest in the reduction of crime. Why should they? Unless the dictum, “Propter Salutem Nostram” points to a better way.
There is a better way for the populace and the attorneys. They should use their best efforts to bring it about. They should use their considerable mind power to find ways to reduce the level of criminal activity. A low level of criminal activity will create a climate favorable to entrepreneurs. When there is an increase in ventures, there will be an increase in the establishment of business companies. They will require the services of attorneys to provide legal advice and protection. Then, there will be more job opportunities, which will divert some young people from turning to crime. All this would come about if the legal fraternity could see where lay their enlightened self-interest.
Should a politician who is a member of the House of Representatives always vote with the government side, if he is a member of the majority party or, always with the opposition if he is a member of that party? Career safety says yes. Enlightened self-interest says, not if the question is against the interests of his constituents and, not if it is against the national interest. He is being practical when he stands up for his constituents. He is being true to his oath of office, his conscience and his sense of nationhood if he puts his country’s interest above that of his party. A reputable newspaper columnist in Belize would say he is being noble. I think that his decision would be in keeping with, “Propter Salutem Nostram.”
We have been conditioned to think of the government as the majority party, when the government is really Parliament, that is, the House of Representatives and the Senate.
When the House is in session, it becomes the Legislature. In the House, the government and Opposition sit facing each other and the proposals, usually put forward by the government side, are debated from different points of view. It is the duty of the opposition to point out the flaws in bills or resolutions, and propose amendments, so that the final decisions best serve the people they represent. It would be fair to say that in the House, government and opposition are adversaries but, they have a common objective, the best interests of the nation.
Government and opposition have a relationship outside the House and, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition often confer, as required by the Constitution and, in the normal course of serving the people. For example, not long ago, the Prime Minister had a meeting with the Leader of the Opposition. At that meeting he proposed that the parties should work together to find the best ways to deal with crime. After consulting with his colleagues, the Leader of the Opposition declined the invitation. He had good reasons for his decision. If he joined in the effort and it failed, the opposition would have a share of the blame. If it succeeded, the government would probably get all the credit. There might have been another reason for his decision, which might not reflect favorably on the opposition, for it is not inconceivable that they may, like the Republican Party in America, wish the government’s efforts to fail.
Would it not have been in the national interest for the elected members of Parliament to join forces to deal with crime? I think the answer is resounding, Yes! I think that if they had, the whole nation would be united in support and, we would not fail.
Had the Opposition accepted the invitation, would you say that they would have been demonstrating “enlightened self-interest,” or being noble but unrealistic? You be the judge.
Support the Government
It is wise and sensible to support the Government. If you are red and the government is blue, why should you support it, when it is the enemy? The government can’t be your enemy, because it represents all the people, and acts for and in our name. It is in the nature of a democracy that there are general elections at decreed intervals, when the people choose, between the candidates of different political persuasions, those that will represent them in the House of Representatives.
The government is not the majority party. The House of Representatives composed of the elected members of all parties and, the members of the Senate, comprise the government. So. It is not proper to say that the government is red or blue, regardless of which party predominates.
This business of enmity or preference for one party or the other, as far as the ordinary citizen in concerned, should apply only during electoral campaigns. After the issue is settled, the government (all the members who take the oath of office) should dedicate themselves to serving the people, which means putting the National Interest above all other considerations.
Now then, if the executive introduces Bills or puts forward resolutions in the House, to carry out the promises in the majority party’s manifesto, why should there be these contentious, sometimes “heaty”, debates between the government side and the opposition side? Here, the term “government” is used to apply to the members of the majority party. There is nothing wrong with that. The bills and resolutions put forward by the government side may have laudable objectives but, the opposition could have strong difference to the form, methods and approaches proposed. It is the duty of the opposition to criticize, propose amendments, or utterly condemn a bill or resolution, even though they share the objectives they seek to accomplish.
The role of a citizen is different; he should support the government in its objectives, regardless of his party affiliation. He should want the government to succeed because, if the government succeeds, the people succeed. He does so by paying taxes, obeying the law and cooperating with public authorities.
I have been dealing with normal times. Now, let us consider the role of the opposition in the House of Representatives and the ordinary citizen in a time of crisis. Specifically, let us focus on the crime situation, which is becoming, if it is not already, a crisis. We have to consider it a crisis, when there are criminal gang members who are armed with AK rifles and grenades, and who are prepared to shoot up people’s homes and throw grenades where crowds are gathered; who if apprehended cannot be convicted because, witnesses will not testify for fear of their lives. There is more but, this should be enough.
The government has an overall plan called “Restore Belize” which includes dealing with crime and, it has proposed what may be called extraordinary measures to the same purpose, which the public has reacted to unfavorably. No other organized body with persuasive power and influence, like the political party in opposition, the Bar Association, the Trade Union Congress, and the Chamber of Commerce, have made any recommendations. It is as if they are saying that it is for the government, only, to solve the problem.
The government has the power to do what is necessary but, though it has a super majority, it is not a dictatorship. They have a term of office which ends in fourteen months. In fourteen months or before, there will be general elections and, a new government will be elected in which, in all likelihood the majority party will not have the numbers to do what is necessary, without opposition support. They will not be able to devise and implement the extraordinary measures which are required to solve this problem.
What is the problem? As I see it, the problem is to break up the gangs, which are criminal organizations. The individual gang members are like the fingers of a hand. When the fingers are clenched into a fist, they become the gang. Therein lies the strength and power of the criminal. The solution is simple: break up the gangs. Not so easy. A law has to be passed making membership in gangs illegal, with the appropriate sanctions. How will it be established that a person is a gang member? There must be a way. It has to be found. Another law must make it illegal for three or more persons to hang out. What about freedom of assembly? What about civil and human rights? They may be impediments standing in the way of achieving a desirable objective. These impediments can be overcome. Individual rights are not unlimited. The fundamental principles on which our constitution rests, declare that the Common Good should prevail over individual rights.
Let me diverge, for a moment, and talk about gangs. They are like a pack pf wolves, which regard the rest of society as sheep. They are predators who have the power to kill (with impunity, it would seem). Their members may be the product of societal forces but they choose to join gangs because it provides them with power, protection and, the association of kindred spirits. To them, murder is not a reprehensible crime, but something they have to do in order to survive. If my assessment is correct, you can see why we have to break up gangs as an order of first priority.
I have some ideas on how to determine who are gang members, in a fair and transparent way; what effective sanctions may be imposed to persuade people to leave gangs voluntarily and, how those listed as gang members without cause may be removed from the list?
You may well ask why a country like America, with all its resources of brainpower and finance, cannot deal with gangs as proposed. My answer is that America is wedded to the Free Enterprise Capitalist system, where every individual and organized body put their interest first. We Belizeans are different. We believe that we are our brother’s keeper and, in the Common Good. That is what we affirm in our Constitution.
The government has to be supported in its efforts to deal with crime in general, by all our citizens but, especially, by those organizations with power and influence, referred to in this article. In regard to the members of the opposition who are in the House of Representatives, they have a duty to support the government in those efforts because, they have taken a sacred oath to do so. If they do not, they do not deserve the title of “Honorable.”