by Charles Leslie Jr.
We in Placencia demand our autonomy: we want to be interdependent and not dependent on Central Government.
Belize is the only country in the Central American Integrated System (SICA) that does not have subventions for rural communities. This leaves us with little to no financial autonomy, and also very little legal autonomy.
One of the sources of the socioeconomic problems in our country is the fact that we have a government structure that is set up expecting villages to properly carry out their mandates, yet villages get no subventions from Central Government. We have no by-laws, thus no legal autonomy, collect no taxes, no trade license fees, etc. Currently the only way villages can increase income, guaranteed to them under the Village Council Act, is to open more bars, which has been detrimental to the social well-being of the family unit, and has caused countless hardships in areas such as domestic violence.
This is a system designed for the failure of locally elected rural governments, since elected officials are expected to carry out their mandates properly with little to no resources and autonomy.
Due to this designed-to-fail system, the Government of Belize often blames the village leaders for being incompetent, and we are looked upon as children that cannot be trusted to handle their own affairs.
With the autonomy we deserve and demand, we will have the financial resources and the legal backing that we require to fulfill our mandate. This would be true participatory democracy.
Minister Godwin Hulse, who is an advocate of autonomy for rural communities and is the Minister of Local Government, spoke at a Caribbean Local Economic Development (CARILED) forum held between May 16 – 18, 2012 – he stated, “Improving the lives of the citizens and those we govern, both in their basic living conditions and their economic well-being, is then the goal.
We must continue to promote democracy and decentralization of authority. Central Government may devolve considerable authority to the local authorities, dependent on the capacity of such authorities, to manage the responsibilities.”
The first step the Government of Belize made towards this effort was legislating the Village Council Act in the year 2000. Furthermore, in 2008 the initiative for the development of a National Policy was launched. The Government of Belize approved the National Policy on August 25, 2009.
Key areas that this policy would address are the decentralization of governance for greater equity, efficiency, effectiveness and transparency in the delivery of local government services to people in rural communities.
However, what we have is the same old colonial system with their sleight-of-hand. The only change in our laws was the word “Colonial” being replaced with “National” law and our constitution bastardized beyond recognition.
What we are practicing right now is a dictatorial plutocracy.
Our country, especially its elected leaders in the House of Representative, continues to do disservice and to be disloyal to the purpose of the Village Council Act, the joining of SICA and the passing of The National Policy.
This is clearly reflected in the fact that our country is still the only country in SICA that does not have full autonomy to villages, as well as our antiquated constitution, and policies that give great advantages only to the elite Belizeans and foreigners, and leave the proletariat Belizean disadvantaged and on an uneven playing field, which is perpetuating increased poverty, thus catalyzing many of the socio-economic issues we are experiencing today, such as gentrification, especially in tourism-related areas, such as Placencia, Seine Bight, Hopkins, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Cayo, etc.
It is also reflected by the fact that the Central Government has been talking about giving autonomy to rural communities since the inception and legislation of the Village Council Act in 2000 and the passing of the National Policy in 2009, which the former is giving autonomy with one hand and taking it away with the next, and the latter is sitting on a shelf gathering dust.
60%+ of Belizeans live in rural communities, and we get the smallest portion of available resources; we have to beg very hard for that much.
Rural Belize needs to wake up and realize the power we have in this country, and use it to demand that we get our fair share of the resources, as well as real proportional representation in the House of Representatives, then we will have real change in this country and real participatory democracy.
Government will always use the rhetoric that “it is not that simple.” And giving one village full autonomy will “open Pandora’s Box”.
We are not children. We have so much untapped potential that we can harness to truly help this country come out of the Stone Ages. But, GOB must realize or be forced to realize, that one of the steps to being a good manager is to give your employees the resources they require and TRUST them to use it to its full potential, with responsibility, accountability and transparency.
Give us our autonomy. Stop injecting manipulative politics into our Councils and communities to divide us, and we will show you what we are capable of.
I encourage ALL villages across this country to DEMAND autonomy. Write letters to your District Association of Village Councils (DAVCOs), to the National Association of Village Councils (NAVCO), and delegate them to advocate on your behalf to DEMAND your autonomy from Central Government.
A list of DEMANDS to gain true autonomy – not limited:
- Our by-laws
- Trade License Fees
- A % of land taxes
- A % of the consolidated funds in the form a subvention
- Completion of village boundaries
- Upgrade of Police Stations to Sub-Formations so as to better lobby for the resources you need
In conclusion, if we do not act now, we will be in the Stone Ages for a long time to come. And not more than a decade from now, Belizeans will own nothing in this country, but for a few elitists, and the proletariat will simply be cheap labor in menial positions, as former Prime Minister, Honorable George Cadle Price, had predicted.
Yours in service,
Charles Leslie Jr.
Say No to ICJ.