by: Hubert Pipersburgh
Both Political parties in Belize have developed over the decades since independence a flawless blueprint to ensure the relative success of the individual party. They have both colluded to perfect a clientele spoils system of machine politics that will ensure that the nepotism, cronyism, and subjugation to a deformed system continues unabated. Both parties nibble around the periphery with a few cosmetic adaptations and amendments here are there, which only sort to guarantee the continuation of the status quo and their priveledge place in it.
This system of patronage and handouts inherited from our colonial masters reinforced under self-government, is now an institutionalize pattern of dependency and limited participation in the affairs of the state by its people. The model fostered is a form of democracy without the genuine participation of the people. However, it is now effectively a kleptocracy, a form of government in which no outside oversight is possible. An all powerful prime minister that enjoys demigod status, control both the supply of public funds and the means of determining their disbursal.
In addition, this clientelism also served to inhibit the process of policy development. By instituting a one on one approach to governance. The role of the poor working class majorities is defined as that of helpless beneficiaries that are used to political handouts and capable of little else. The people are only necessary to vote for the political parties in periodic elections every fives years.
Coincidentally, this practice also created a dual system consisting of a formal system from which little happened unless the key of political patronage is inserted to activate on behalf of the citadel of privilege and well connected. Coupled that with the benign dictatorial actions of the ruling party of the day whose mantra is “the minority should have its say, but the majority would have its way,” is difficult for any system to overcome.
Plus, the role of the executive, the office of the Prime Minister, is so exaggerated as the benefactor from whom all goods flow have developed the undemocratic political culture of the “minster sey.” The country’s treasury is treated as if though it were their own personal bank account, spending the funds as they see fit. As a result, here we are thirty or so years after political independence power is still very much concentrated in the hands of ministers. It’s an apparent paradox, this serve at the same time to penetrate and break down the governing institutions to the role of mere errand boys at the beck and call of powerful government ministers. The monopoly of power by politicians has translated into law by the liberal use of the clause allowing “ministerial discretion” in interpreting and implementing statutory instruments. Perhaps, the worse implications is that its has created a monopoly of lawyers on the process of governance and jurisprudence.
Moreover, this has further fed the growth of corruption and the wielding of arbitrary power by highly placed public officials. The airport authority board is a case in point. Influential government employees illegitimately exploiting their posts for personal gain. It’s painfully obvious, using a public statutory body as a personal piggy bank has no severe subsequent action in Belize’s body politic.
Unfortunately, all this is being done at the expense of the national economic security interest of the nation. The two establish political parties have purposely neglected to develop a national blueprint that can ensure success and development of the nation and its people. The parties’ interest and its survival remains paramount in the equation. Allegiance to the party above all is a constant, it is encouraged and applauded even if it is at the expense of the nation’s development. Once in power, it is difficult for one to separate the party apparatus from the government itself.
Additionally, during much of the last several decades as the deterioration of the social and economic fabric of the society unraveled, the leaders of these parties mostly lawyer politicians, have been in the decision making smoke filled back rooms enjoying a front row seat to Belize’s rapid decent of potentially becoming a failed state in the 21st century. This kleptocratic system is manipulated by foreign corporate interests and functions mostly as a ceremonial government that is unaccountable to its nation.
As white collar crime has skyrocketed, they thumb their noses at our criminal justice system. Both parties have agreed almost by de facto, that the political elite class in Belize have a special immunization that protects them from prosecution. This cartel like hold that they have over the people buttressed by a deformed political system has effectively ensured that the PUP and UDP operate like criminal organizations where protection of the profitable enterprise, in this case the resources of the state are divided and apportion out every five years.
The state now effectively dole out national assets on a personal and partisan basis in this privatization era of bloated contracts and other corrupt means such as embezzlement, fraud, and bribery. The country is operated as a commercial enterprise for private profit, effected by a collusion between the state and favored monopolies all profit derived from such exploitation of people’s resources are for private gain, while all the debts incurred are a public responsibility such as the super-bond. Furthermore, the resulting government budget deficit is repaid by the country’s poor working class majorities. The people who earn wages rather than making profits. We now have a projected national debt of some 6 billion dollars. A burden to pass on to our children thereby robbing them of a secure future.
As we gear up to vote for twiddle dee or twiddle dum and struggle from crisis to crisis. As a nation we are leaderless, directionless, and fragmented into multiple ethnicities on our way to economic oblivion.
This turf protection by any means necessary, by these two powerful political parties effectively neglects the social or people sector. Yes, the human beings of the society, that is the place where all the mistakes, miscalculations, and greed of this neo-liberal political business elite class are finally registered. In the stark reality of human suffering, destruction, the loss of dignity, and hope.
In short, it begs the question, can the social or people sector, rise and overcome the inherited negative legacies of our history? The short answer is that it cannot and should not be expected to bear the burdens of a deformed system. We are a bewildered confuse people victimize by rabid petty partisan politics. We relegate, everything even the most mundane into political categories which further divides the nation.
There has been no sustained political will to dismantle this cartel like hold, everyday life is deeply entrenched in crime, violence, and political clientele patronage. Unless, there are deliberate and well-targeted policies to dismantle and and break the stranglehold that the political and criminal elements have on us as a people, we will never experience any sustained improvement in the quality of life.
Hence, the challenge remains to find a defining leader that can harness the popular struggle of the masses without a red or Blue insignia post independence. One with a well articulated vision with clear purposes for long term growth and sustainable economic development. One whose unfolding vision must be based on social justice, respect for diversity, and enhanced productivity while balancing individual initiatives with the community and in harmony with nature.