Editorial - Time to sign on the dotted line

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 18            May 9, 2002

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So, what do you think of the government and how you are governed? Not in terms of this administration or the last administration, but overall, since independence. Are you happy with the way elected officials represent your interests? Do you think the majority of those elected to power are working in the best interest of the country? Or, do you feel that once elected they become arrogant and self-serving, that their motivation is one of greed and personal gain? Do you feel that they are sympathetic to the needs of all the people; that they are available, and willing to listen to your concerns and comments? Or do you feel once elected they no longer care about your needs and opinions? Do you think they are fair and just? Or, do you feel that once elected they use their influence and power to punish those that dare to oppose them and use that same influence and power to enrich themselves, their families and friends, ignoring all who are not in their "inner circle" and good graces?

     If you look at any point in time some of the above could apply. If you look at the above, over a period of time, all could apply. The one constant is a definite lack of consistency in the way we are "ruled". What one person is allowed to do because of his/her political connections, may land another person in jail. While one person might get a piece of land for a song, another is denied land because of their political affiliation or station. It seems loyalty to the party, not the people, is top priority. The system has become so distorted and perverted through the years that it has taken on a life of its own. Violations of rights and freedoms have become the norm. People have become resigned into believing "that's just the way it is-there is nothing I can do about it". Most people feel if they stand and speak their mind or disagree with their elected officials that retaliation will be forthcoming.

    In order to fix the problem the cause must first be diagnosed and then solutions proposed.

    In a real democracy, the true power lies in the hands of the people. They in turn, elect individuals to carry out their wishes. The people are the bosses; elected individuals work for them. Along the way, this concept has somehow flip-flopped and now the servants have become the masters. But how has this happened?

    There is a certain amount of power and prestige that goes along with being elected to office. From people treating you special, to people constantly praising you and telling you how great you are in order to stay on your "good side". Like most normal people, this treatment can eventually go to a person's head and they begin to feel more important than the office and those they serve. After a while, some become like spoiled children who think they can have and do anything they want without having to suffer any consequences. In their minds, they are living in ancient Greece, and Belmopan is their Mount Olympus where they sit, god-like on their thrones, looking down on the mere mortals. Some feel the power they have is absolute; where laws and rights can be cast aside on a whim in order to punish or reward those they are elected to serve. Some feel they do not need, want or have to consult with the people they take an oath to serve. Many others begin their political career with a real desire to make positive changes and to empower those they were elected to serve. Unfortunately, the ones who are able to resist the temptation of personal gain and monetary rewards they can amass during their term in office are sent to the back benches, unable to affect any real change. There must be a way that we, the people, are able to rein in our out-of-control children and to give those representatives who are willing to fight for the people a voice. A way that insures that our inalienable rights remain intact and that the misuse of power by those we elect to carry out our wishes is put in check. But, how can we as individuals accomplish this daunting task?

    I would like to offer one of many possible solutions that could help curtail the abuse and misuse of power by elected officials and create a fair and equal environment for all the residents and citizens of Belize.

    The Political Reform Commission was appointed by the government of the day to find the flaws and shortcomings of the system and to make recommendations for improvement. The members held countrywide consultations with community leaders, businesspeople and all concerned citizens. Unfortunately, when over 100 recommendations were made to government, only a token few were considered by government or passed into law. Any significant changes to the present system to insure a more efficient method of checks and balances, and a more equal and just recourse for the citizens of the country were, in as much, dismissed. It is alarmingly clear that we, as a people, cannot leave it up to the politicians to reduce the amount of control or relinquish the power they wield over the people they are, supposedly, elected to serve.

    One solution of ensuring service in the best interest of the people is to draw up a document for any member of any party to sign (such as a "People's Manifesto") before election day. What is the people's manifesto? Quite simply, it would be a LEGALLY BINDING contract consisting of five or ten meaningful recommendations created by the political reform commission for government. The lists could contain anything from removing the term "minister's discretion" from every law that contains it; making elected officials liable for any illegal wrongdoing; making the Freedom of Information Act include all contracts the government signs on behalf of the people (BTL, Intelco, port, etc., etc.); making the senate an elected body instead of an appointed one, or making the Town and Village Council Act an enforceable piece of legislation that Central Government must abide by. Which ones to choose and how we choose them can be decided later, the main concern is that they are chosen by the people. As far as the legal document itself, it should be drawn up by attorneys and be made legally binding and enforceable by either the Supreme Court or Governor General. It should state that the candidate for office is signing it of his/her own free will and that if elected he/she will, within 180 days of being sworn into office, pass the "People's Manifesto" into law. A specific paragraph in the contract should state that if any elected official who signs the contract and, once elected, votes against this legislation, he/she would immediately resign their seat in the House and a bye-election would be held to fill the vacated seat. Anyone who does not want to sign this document does not have to do so BUT the list of who did and who did not sign would be posted, in the media before election time and at the polling stations on the day of elections. If any candidate refused to sign the document, it would be a clear indication that this person is only running to serve his/her own personal agenda and not the wishes of the people. It is like beating the grass to get the snakes out. A way of weeding out those who want to be served from those who want to serve. This would give the people a better idea, beforehand, of what type of candidate they are dealing with instead of hoping that they made the right choice for the next five years. If any of the political parties are serious about true reform and restoring the people's confidence in the system, they should willingly embrace a concept like this. The system is broke and it does need fixing!

    All of this may sound like a lot of work, and it is. The battle for Belize's independence was not easily achieved and neither will the battle for the people's independence. The quest for true democracy is not always convenient or easy, but the alternative, of continuing the cycle of servitude to those who are elected to serve, is not an attractive option. History has shown us that colorfully printed manifestos, broken promises and empty speeches have little to do with real life. This time around, put it in writing and make it legally binding.

    It is time for the people to take their future into their own hands. This time around, don't give them the time until they've signed on the dotted line!

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