Editorial - Vote your Conscience!

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 13, No. 7            February 27, 2003

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Election Day is almost here. How prepared are you to vote? Have you talked with the candidates and listened to their positions on the issues? Or, are you just going to vote along party lines no matter who is running and hope for the best? We sincerely hope you have researched the new candidates for election and have analyzed how those we gave our trust to the last time around have lived up to their promises and performed their duties and obligations to the people of Belize.

    It is the moral obligation of every citizen of this country to vote for the most suitably qualified candidates. There are good candidates, both blue and red, who deserve your support. Candidates who have the ethics to work in the best interest of their community and country, and the maturity to set aside petty party politics. Unfortunately, many voters turn a blind eye to qualifications and ethics and instead fall prey to the "party mentality," voting for someone simply because they belong to a certain party. Candidates should be judged on their qualifications and their position on the issues not party color. It is up to you to get to know the candidates. Party manifestos are, in reality, a Christmas wish list for voters, written by a political party in order to appeal to the majority of the population. Every point or goal contained in these manifestos does not necessarily mirror the individual's position or vision for the future, but is accepted by them as a whole in the best interest of their party. We need to vote for qualified individuals who possess the ethics and moral fortitude to do what is best for the people and the community, not flunkies who turn a blind eye to people and community and whose loyalty is to their masters in Belmopan. Voting strictly along party lines only helps strengthen the choke-hold politicians have on the people and only helps further the chances for graft, corruption and political victimization. However, if YOU strongly feel your party has all of the most qualified candidates then by all means vote for them. But, if you feel one, two or more do not measure up, then you owe it to your country and fellow citizens to select the most suitable candidates - no matter which party. It is crystal clear that changing the government from one party to the other every election is not the answer. The cycle of "trading monkey for black dog" must be broken.

    Contrary to popular belief, having a strong opposition has many benefits and is not a bad thing. With 29 seats up for grabs in the general election and seven seats available in the municipal election, one party or the other will have a majority, regardless. At this point in time, a strong opposition is the only system of checks and balances the people can realistically hope to achieve. It is all too clear that no government to this day has been in any way serious about any type of political reform. Once elected it is "politricks" as usual. Giving one party or the other absolute power only increases the chances for absolute corruption. It also diminishes the ability of our town council to govern in the best interest of the people. As it stands, the Town Councils Act is a worthless piece of paper because central government or ministers constantly overrule independent thoughts and town council decisions about what is good for the town. If anyone speaks out, they are told they must remain silent "for the good of the party." This allows corruption and personal greed to go unchecked and breed, helping to further erode the rights of all citizens and businesses to be treated fairly and equally. A strong opposition can expose and publicize unethical and illegal acts of the majority in power. Look at the illegal dredging that continues against the town council's wishes or the over-issuing of vehicle permits. Look at the immigration and education scandals in the country. Would the citizens of this country ever know about these if it were not for the opposition? That is the opposition's job to keep the government of the day in check. To expose corruption, waste and "backroom deals". To protect the people's rights and report irregularities. It might not be the best of options but at this time it is the only option we can realistically accomplish.

    So, when you choose your candidates ask yourself a few questions.

* Is this person loyal to the people first or to the party first?
* Will this person treat everyone equally or will they only cater to party supporters?
* If you have a difference of opinion with the elected official will they respect your opinion or will they become vindictive and retaliate against you for voicing your opinion?
* Are they ethical or can they be bought off by big business?
* Are they committed to the future of Belize or are they using their office for personal gain?
* If you owned a business, would you hire this person?

    The incumbents running for re-election have had several years in office. The PUP party has made, and is taking credit for, many more accomplishments and improvements. You need to look beyond the millions of dollars of the people's money being spent on elaborate TV and radio ads and full-page newspaper advertisement telling what they have done for you. You need to separate fact from fiction. Ask yourself a few questions such as:

* Were the improvements made in-line with increasing our national debt from $500 million to $2 billion?
* Monetary aid was sent to Belize from outside governments for rehabilitation projects and improvements after Hurricane Mitch and Iris. Do you think this money was spent on the projects and improvements it was intended for?
* Have elected officials worked as team players in the best interest of the community and country and listened to residents' views and opinions or do they have the "I'm in charge here" attitude?
* Have they amassed material gains that far surpass their salary or legal income?
* Have alleged wrongdoings in their administration been investigated and justice served or are elected officials "untouchables" who are above the law?
* Have they respected the intent of the Town and Village Council Acts?
* Have they lived up to most of the manifesto promises which got them elected?
* Have they been there for you during their whole term or only around election time?
* Do you think they have done a good job and deserve to be re-elected?

    It is a hard job being an elected official. You cannot be everything to everyone. You should not base your judgment of an individual candidate solely because you could not get your way in a certain instance. You must look at the bigger picture are they doing/will they do their best for the people, the town and the country in a fair and honest way? That is the true test of a politician's worth.

    Remember, those in power or those aspiring for power are giving you nothing but their service and they are being paid for that service. Quite simply, they are applying for a job and you are the employer. If you hire them, (vote them into office) they are there to work on your behalf and best interest. They are using your money to finance projects and make improvements. They are not reaching into their bank accounts to do this, they are reaching into YOURS! You must demand that they act responsibly and fairly on EVERYONE'S behalf, and let them know they will be held accountable for their actions if they do not.

    Be an individual, be informed, and VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE!

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