Barrow’s predicament

editorial in last week's Amandala...

BELIZE CITY, Thu, Sep. 28, 2006

Belize Prime Minister-in-waiting, Dean Barrow, is in somewhat of a predicament. His law firm, Barrow & Williams, has been on retainer from Lord Michael Ashcroft’s Belize Bank for the last fifteen years, and on Monday evening this week, his law partner, Rodwell Williams, sat on Lord Ashcroft’s BTL board when that board defied Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh’s injunction against the holding of a BTL annual general meeting.

Barrow’s Opposition United Democratic Party issued a strong release condemning the disrespect to the judiciary, and Mr. Barrow explained to Channel 7 on Wednesday that Mr. Williams was not a member of the BTL board, but rather the legal advisor thereto. It was difficult for the average Belizean to see what difference the technicality made, because Mr. Williams sat there with the BTL board at the meeting when Senior Counsel Lois Young Barrow pointed out three times to that board that the Chief Justice had granted an injunction and that the meeting should not proceed.

In fact, when you think about it, it is Mr. Barrow’s law partner who should have been the one to advise the BTL board, in the strongest possible terms, against the holding of Monday’s shareholders’ meeting.

The people of Belize have gotten the uncomfortable feeling that the leaders of both the major political parties in Belize, Said Musa and Dean Barrow, are intimidated (or compromised) by Lord Ashcroft. Musa and Barrow appear to believe that Lord Ashcroft’s money is more than vital where general election victory is concerned. They believe Ashcroft’s money is indispensable, a sine qua non.

And because both the PUP and the UDP leaders seem to believe this, both of them have gotten themselves into trouble, specifically with BTL. In the case of Mr. Musa, he had promised to lower telephone, electricity and water rates during his 1998 general election campaign. Exorbitant telephone rates were the most painful thorn in the sides of Belizeans, so Mr. Musa publicly declared in 2002 that they should be lowered. But when he had to go eyeball-to-eyeball with Lord Ashcroft, the Hon. Prime Minister preferred to be discreet instead of valorous. Musa ended up with the Intelco debacle, the Prosser confusion and continuing BTL controversy.

Now Mr. Barrow is trying to split hairs on national television to protect his Ashcroft checks while maintaining his UDP leadership credibility. Mr. Barrow told Channel 7 on Wednesday that he does not know what advice his law partner gave BTL on Monday, and Mr. Barrow specifically stated that he “won’t even ask,” in an attempt to divorce himself from BTL’s defiance of the Supreme Court injunction. But aren’t law partners supposed to consult with each other? Isn’t that what partnership is about? How can it be “Barrow & Williams” on the legal register and on the business plaque, not to mention the bank account, but not “Barrow and Williams” when the interests of the firm’s wealthiest client and the interests of the leader’s political party collide? Mr. Barrow’s balancing act is becoming more and more delicate.

In fact, the balancing act is becoming downright dangerous for Mr. Barrow and the UDP. Lord Ashcroft is unpopular with the masses of the Belizean people, but his money is the biggest money at campaign time. Is it the case that Ashcroft is holding both Belize’s major political parties to ransom? If that is so, then we would have to say that, in a real sense, we Belizeans have returned to British colonialism. If Lord Ashcroft’s welfare is more important to the PUP and the UDP than the welfare of the Belizean people, then we Belizean people have a lot of questions to ask ourselves about these political parties and about ourselves.

It is said that a people get the leadership they deserve. It is we, the Belizean people, who have allowed our politics to become what it has become - votes for sale. We have used our poverty as an excuse to abandon our civic responsibility. Some of us have rationalized that campaign time is the only time the politicians are giving up anything, so let’s grab and wait for the next campaign. If it’s free, let me die. This approach was almost humorous until a British billionaire realized that we were so much on the take here, he could actually buy political power in Belize.

Even that did not really frighten Belizeans, but now we are wondering if the British billionaire has become bigger than the judiciary. He certainly behaved that way on Monday. This would be a very serious state of affairs. But again, it would not be totally unexpected. In retrospect, we have been heading this way for a long time.

A lot of people are whores in Belize. They rationalize their positions glibly. “Oh, everybody’s doing it. I have to get mine. Everybody’s for sale. Everybody’s on the take. It’s all about the money.”

Mr. Barrow’s predicament is, in the larger sense, Belize’s predicament. We compromised our integrity as a people a while back. We were cuter than cute. It was a game we played. Not to be dramatic or self-righteous, but we would have to say that it’s time we Belizeans get real. Serious.