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#433630 03/21/12 08:50 AM
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The Belize at Thirty Conference kicked off today, but tomorrow and Thursday there will be 8 lecturers presenting. This would be great for students. For more information contact the ISCR office at 822-3307.

"The Institute for Social and Cultural Research (ISCR) through the National Celebrations Commission will be hosting the Belize at Thirty Conference from March 20th to March 22nd, 2012. The Conference is an educational and reflective exercise in which guest lecturers from development sectors have been invited to develop and present research papers on key areas of national interest since independence. The lectures and discussions will focus on historical analysis, statistics, trends and patterns on Belize's state of development and generate informative projections for a way forward."

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Belize At 30: Consider the Women

When we think of the nationalist movement, our minds jump to figures like George Price, Philip Goldson, Leigh Richardson and many of the men who helped pushed Belize to nationhood.

Well tonight, NICH is hosting an opening lecture on the role of women in Belize's Nationalist Movement. Dr. Anne Macpherson has done her research for her PHD dissertation on Belizean women's political history, and will be giving the lecture tonight. This will kick off a three day discussion called "Belize at Thirty", Nigel Encalada, the director of NICH told us more about the discussion.

Nigel Encalada, the Director of NICH
"Tonight is the opening of what is called Belize at 30 Conference. It is the last event on the calendar to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Belize's Independence; It is the education academic side so to speak of commemorating and looking at Belize's experience with independence."

"Tonight's lecture focuses the role of women from 1910's up to the 1960's. For obvious reasons we can't present the full scoop of her research on a single lecture, but it deals with the period in the 1910's and the 1960's, and she examines the role women played and asserts that women played a critical role in Belize's nationalist movement. A woman could get you elected, but at the same time she could also get rid of you in the event that you did not address their needs and concerns, so basically we discuss the realm of roles of women in Belize's nationalist movement."

"They would form sub groups out of the main street party but it would include some of the "bembe" women if you want to use that term, women who would go and slander and embarrass the people they were opposing, so women played a critical role, no one in the contexts of the patriarch of Belizean society. Nobody wanted to be embarrassed by a woman at a public meeting; nobody wanted to be embarrassed by a woman walking down a street, you know that sort of thing. So the women were critical in this psychology of getting men to walk the straight and narrow if you want to use that term."

Robin Schaffer
"In formal education we usually associate the nationalist movement with George Price, Phillip Goldson; we rarely hear about women, or any single woman. Could you list off or tell me about some women in particular?"

Nigel Encalada, the Director of NICH
"Some of the women who were associated with healthcare, for example, were actually political and social activists, Nurse Seay, Gilda Lewis, Emma Boiton. You have a number of women who fall; Gwen Lizarraga, you know, a number of women who played a critical role."

The lecture is being held in the Fordyce Chapel at St. John's College at 7:p.m. and the discussion will continue in an all-day lecture series on Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Channel 7

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The Belize at thirty opening night lecture takes place tonight at the Fordyce Chapel at St. John's College. The event is sponsored by the National Celebrations Commission and organized by the National Institute for Culture and History. But what exactly is the Belize at thirty conference? Director of the Institute for Social and Cultural Research, Nigel Encalada, explains. Associate Professor in the faculty of the history Department at the College at Suny Brockport, which is the State University of New York, Dr. Anne Macpherson, will be doing the opening night lecture and she told us a little bit about herself and gave us a preview about what to expect tonight The conference kicks off at seven p.m and will be followed with a full day of conference by Belizean presenters tomorrow at the Fordyce Chapel and on Thursday at the Bliss Institute for the Performing Arts.


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The Corrosive Currency of Handout Politics

Last night we told you about "Belize at 30", a three day conference marking the 30th Anniversary of Belize's independence. It opened last night with a lecture about the role of women in Belize's Nationalist Movement, and today it tackled a myriad of topics ranging from Belize's Protected areas to Broadcast News Media.

One which really piqued our interest, given the recent elections and the accusations made by both parties about buying votes, was Dylan Vernon's lecture on 'Handout Politics' in an Independent Belize. We caught up with him after his presentation, and discussed the corrosive currency of handout politics.

Robin Schaffer
"How has handout politics been consequential in forming the political culture in Belize?"

Dylan Vernon - Presenter, Belize at 30
"What I'm finding is that political clienteleism - handout politics as we call it in Belize - has expanded to a very high, rampant level. I estimated in my presentation that about 25% to 30% of the electorate is involved in some way and that might by a conservative estimate. The money that needs to be collected and pushed through area representatives - political clinics - has to come from somewhere. It comes from private sources, and that has a whole heap of problems in terms of the corruption trail. The other one I looked at was the extent to which more and more people - and as I said in my presentation - rationally decided that this is what they are going to do - to influence politicians to give them something. And in doing this at this level, it diminishes - in my estimation - all the means of political participation. What does voting mean if that the only way that you vote? The area representative has become almost like a welfare agent. The first person that people go to when they have a problem is the area representative, and there is no way in any law in any law in our country - in our constitution of course - which says that the area representative has to be a welfare agent, but that is after the fact."

Robin Schaffer
"So, who is to blame, the PUP, the UDP, or the electorate?"

Dylan Vernon
"Well, I certainly tried to show in my paper that this is not a PUP or UDP blame thing. From my estimation, it's an elective politics thing that both parties have played into, and both have used. It got to a point where people began to say, 'Well, I can see the power of my vote.' And, they began to negotiate with the politicians for more, and at some point in time, they even - I think - began to gain the upper hand where the politicians became dependent on giving them handouts if they wanted to have an edge in a constituency. So, there is a mutual sort of damaging dependency that I see going on right now, and breaking out of it is hard because both political parties think that they need to do it to win."

The lectures will continue tomorrow at the Bliss Center for performing arts at 9:00 a.m. It will cover topics including the Guatemalan Claim since Independence presented by Ambassador Fred Martinez.

Channel 7

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Belize at 30 Symposium

Symposiums do not always attract large audiences, but there was a full house of students today at the Belize at Thirty event. The handout politics and the history of broadcasting were two of the more interesting topics presented in the afternoon session of the symposium organized by NICH. Isani Cayetano reports from the Fordyce Chapel at Saint John's College.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Belize at Thirty is the fitting title of a three-day symposium organized by the Institute of Culture and Social Research to discuss the growth and development of the nation since achieving independence in 1981. The conference was launched on Tuesday night with an opening lecture delivered by Dr. Anne Macpherson on the role of women in the struggle for Belize's independence. Among the highlights of the ongoing discussions were two lectures this afternoon, delivered by Dylan Vernon and Stewart Krohn on the impact of handout politics and the broadcast news media, respectively. Coordinating the event is Nigel Encalada of the Institute of Culture & Social Research.

Nigel Encalada, Dir., Institute of Culture & Social Research

Nigel Encalada

"This afternoon we have two lectures. One is on right now and this is a paper being done by soon to be doctor Dylan Vernon and looking at handout politics in Belize. He is looking at the evolution of that as well and so far he has identified three phases; what he calls the innocent phase, the bridging phase and the rampant phase in terms of what has emerged as a culture of handout politics. This lecture will be followed by a lecture by Stewart Krohn on the broadcast news media over the last thirty years. And then we transition into tomorrow where we are looking at a different set of themes. We'll be looking at the Guatemala Claim, Belize's foreign policy, the issue of multiculturalism in Belize and national identity and of course we'll be looking at the economy, one of the crucial sectors. It's all about reflecting on Belize experience with independence in the context of the development sectors over the last thirty years."

In Vernon's address he highlighted the fact that a great deal of what has become the norm within Belize's political culture, as it pertains to the dependency of the electorate on the major parties, stems from the patriarchal manner in which the late Right Honorable George Price led the country.

Dylan Vernon

Dylan Vernon, Guest Speaker, Belize at Thirty

"How did handout politics emerge and expand in Belize? I divide the trajectory, the growth of handout politics in Belize in three distinct phases: an innocent or a rooting phase which I placed from 1956 to 1981, a bridging or a transition phase 1982-1989 and a rampant or the entrenchment phase which we're in today from 1990 to 2012. In terms of the innocent or the rooting phase which, in the case of 1954, marks the beginning of Universal Adult Suffrage and in a sense the launch of Belize's elective politics. It is characterized by the emergence of handouts during the nascent period of political parties and the entrance into national elections. In the phase handout politics was centered around the populist and the paternalistic leadership style of our Father of the Nation, George Price."

For his part veteran broadcaster Stewart Krohn spoke on the evolution of the local television media in Belize post-independence, particularly after the closing down of Radio Belize.

Stewart Krohn, Guest Speaker, Belize at Thirty

Stewart Krohn

"Early TV was very tame. It tended to focus on feature reporting, it was really kind of an extension of that same Belize All Over show. It wasn't quite saying "Oh everything is wonderful in Belize" like Radio Belize was saying. It covered interesting topics but it tended to cover more human interest stories rather than the hardball of politics. This would gradually change however. We were very conscious of our role as the only local TV station. For a number of years you can walk through the south side of Belize at 6:30 but these days unless you live there you don't really go walking through the south side of Belize City for no reason but if you did you would hear out of every small house, you would hear every TV was tuned into the local news. This was something new, you couldn't miss it."

Thursday's event will feature guest speakers Alexis Rosado, Ambassador Alfredo Martinez, Dr. Philip Castillo and Dr. Joseph Palacio in a series of discussions on foreign policy, the Guatemalan Claim and multiculturalism in Belize. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

The symposium wraps up the celebrations of the thirtieth anniversary of Belize's independence that have been taking place since last year.

Channel 5

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Whose turn to feed?

As a part of the Belize at Thirty Conference, spanning Tuesday, March 20 to Thursday, March 22, 2012, Belizean researcher Dylan Vernon delivered an insightful presentation on Wednesday afternoon, titled, "Our Turn to Feed: Exploring the Origins and Implications of Rampant 'Handout Politics' in Independent Belize."

Vernon said that during the course of his research, he interviewed 55 politicians, including the late George Price, Belize's first Prime Minister/Premier, as well as persons from four electoral divisions: Pickstock, Belmopan, Toledo West and Orange Walk Central.

In his presentation, Vernon demonstrated how handout politics emerged and expanded in Belize via three distinct phases on the trajectory: 1954-1981: the innocent or rooting phase; 1982-1989: the bridging phase; and 1990-present, 2012: the rampant or expansion phase.

The "innocent or rooting phase," he said, marks the beginning of Universal Adult Suffrage and the launch of electoral politics in Belize, the nascent period of political parties and their entrance into national elections.

This, Vernon demonstrated, centered on the paternalistic style of Price, which evolved to the extent that some believed that in order to get anything, one had to see Price himself.

The UDP didn't match the PUP's level of 'clientilism', not because they didn't want to, but because they didn't have as much money to rival the PUP's handout politics. Had they had the money, they would have done the same, Vernon said his research revealed.

The culture of bartering with politicians for votes has evidently become entrenched, and new trends continue to emerge, such as the most recent trend of paid callers (also known as "strategic callers") who publicly do the bidding of particular politicians.

He indicated that thousands in handouts are issued at Wednesday clinics held in the various electoral divisions, and while the general range is $6,000 to $9,000 monthly, the highest in a non-election year was reported at $15,000 per month. This, Vernon explained, excluded funds for things such as existing government projects in the division.

Although voter bribery is illegal in Belize, only one post-Independence case, brought by Amin Hegar in 1998, was actually taken to court and it was unsuccessful; while before Independence there were 6 cases without conviction.

The first set of challenges relates to the money trail, Vernon explained. With an average of $7,000 per constituency per month, he estimated that clinic handouts are in the region of $5.5 million per year. By comparison, he noted, this alone is twice the budget of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development in the 2011-2012 budget.

He also pointed to the $2.7 million in X-mas assistance funds issued just before elections, but only to candidates of the ruling party, for distribution to people they chose. There was also another issuance of funds just before the elections, Vernon said.

"When such public funds are distributed through area representatives or candidates, it does indeed blur the line between party and state; it further weakens the ...institutions of the state and opens the door for allocations of public funds being less on merit and fairness and more on who may vote for [a politician]," said Vernon, noting that those who are more opportunistic and play the game better may get more, and may even double dip and triple dip, while others indeed get none or much less.

He also spoke of the connection between certain types of campaign financing and corruption: private donations to politicians help to fuel political corruption and public waste, because donors want returns via tax write-offs, concessions, fee waivers, bloated contracts, et cetera.

Vernon said that a well-known example in Belize is Michael Ashcroft - a major donor of both PUP and UDP since the 1990s.

"Over time, Ashcroft's returns on investment have included the appointment as Belize's representative to the United Nations... the purchase of majority shares in a public utility [BTL], and a government guarantee of 15% minimum profit before taxes..." he detailed.

The collective effect of increasing such transactions is less revenue for the public and for such things as social spending, which, he noted, contributes to a worsening record of financial transparency.

"In this regard," said Vernon, "we are now well aware that political corruption in Belize is described as rampant by Transparency International."

He added that Belize's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) has jumped from 46 in 2003 to 109 in 2008.

"Handout politics has clearly been a significant contributor to this," he commented.

The problem now is, more and more people are seeing handout politics as the normal way to participate, to increase the allocation of resources in their favor.

"It has become a preferred mode of participation for a growing number of people," Vernon said.

As for Belize's relatively high level of voter participation, Vernon explained that many are voting based on which party or politician will "fix them up," politically. This, he said, is enough to swing elections, at both the constituency and national levels.

"Buying an election in small-sized Belize has become an increasingly attractive option, especially, again, as poverty is increasing," said Vernon.

He also noted that in Belize, a politician can easily monitor a voter's actions: if you don't vote in elections or if you vote in another party's convention-and sometimes they punish you for it.

This, he said, inhibits an individual's political freedom and corrupts the concept of people's participation.

The solution to handout politics may well present itself in a messy crisis, he warned.

"The level of handout politics in Belize we now have is not sustainable. We are quickly approaching the point where the changing 'clientilistic' parties, handout politics, will not be enough to solve their problems. There will be a point where there will not be enough handouts to appease enough people and the political parties will then have to 'wheel and come again'."

(Vernon is a former director of the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR) and an activist for political reform. He has also served as chair of Belize's Advisory Council on the Guatemalan Claim.)


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