Who is government?
The tragic death of three teenagers in Belize, the “forgery” or likely illegal accommodation of identification cards from the institutions that hold our Belizean identity in trust; the death of thirteen babies in the public hospital; the failure of the police and judiciary to hold more than five percent of criminals accountable; the education system focused only on top performers – pick an issue or scandal and you will likely find several key elements creating problems. Some of those key elements undermining Belize’s governmental system are apathy among Public Officers; non-experts as key decision makers; lack of accountability; a system that discourages meritocracy and a deteriorating moral compass.
In order for us to understand the role of government we must define the players. The major players in government are the public officers. Public officers are duly elected representatives such as your elected area representatives from both parties; appointed citizens chosen by elected officials such as the Governor General, judges, magistrates, senators, CEOs and heads of departments; and general workers and service providers benefiting from public funding thru salaries or service contracts such as teachers, doctors, office workers and contractors.
The job of public officers is to collectively govern the great nation of Belize. In an idealistic environment government has a social and legal contract for which they are remunerated with citizens’ taxes and are constitutionally mandated to uphold, legislate, adjudicate, maintain, uplift, review laws, policies and practices. Government’s responsibility is outlined within the legal framework of the Constitution of Belize. Government provides infrastructure, healthcare, security, education etc. and government maintains institutions, provides services and works for the public good.
The public good is the services/commodities or benefits that is provided for the well-being of the society. A public good should be non-excludable, meaning that all should have access to it and it should be non-rivalrous. The use of public goods by one does not diminish the others use. Examples of public goods are roads and schools.
Why is government failing in Belize?
Government is failing in Belize because there is a key misunderstanding of government’s role and responsibilities by Belizean society. Government in Belize has intentionally been redefined as only encompassing elected/appointed Cabinet members. Government is generally defined as the political party with the most elected seats. I suspect that the redefinition of government is done for two reasons. The elected cabinet uses it to showcase that they are in control of the money, careers and military. Additionally, it allows them to use public funds for political party business without causing outrage by the society. The Opposition uses the same definition to negate their responsibilities and to motivate supporters to fight for the “spoils” of electoral success and undermine the ruling party. Added to the misrepresentation of governmental role is leadership formed with close blood ties and marital relationships making it increasingly difficult to create a system of meritocracy. Additionally, the current system creates a barrier for ordinary citizens to advance to leadership positions. How can leaders realistically give key positions to the best of the best, when wives, siblings, cousins, children, in-laws have the same motivation? This plays out in political party leadership and in key appointments. Sadly , many times, it is not the best who are working key positions but rather the most connected. In a country as small as Belize, the lines are easily blurred between professionalism and nepotism.
Another identifiable problem is the belief that all opinions are equal. In the professional world, opinions are measured through learning and practice. In the TV, radio, newspaper and social media world, opinions of the loudest advocates, not necessarily from the most learned advocates, gets addressed. There is no systematic and engineered process to finding solutions and people who are completely clueless about the mechanics of the system offer strong suggestions that many times override professional opinions and it has caused the trained public servants to operate in apathetic robotic mode; public servants are often the sacrificial lamb to the whims of electorate opinions and winds of change.
How do we solve this?
Today a doctor posted a meme that said “Your google search cannot replace my medical degree”. It is a profound statement. In today’s information age, there are people who jump on google to engage in epic online battles. They offer opinions backed up by twenty minutes of Google research but they lack the expertise in the subject matter to determine if the information should be treated as credible. They lack the expertise to find credible solutions but they possess the confidence to make suggestions and the louder they speak, the more people attach to their ideas because it sounds right, even when it is completely wrong. The political system that is highly dependent on the voter therefore reacts to public opinion swiftly but moves slowly on expert opinions. Experts have flooded Belize with articles and researches on how to solve some of our pressing systematic problems but there are no evidence of implementation and reports are likely collecting dust on some non-expert shelf who may not understand how to implement solutions.
Belize is in great need of project managers, engineers, and policy makers to help structure a working system, not just a system a system built on theory, not just a spoils system to reward loyalty but a system to govern legally, effectively and efficiently. Unfortunately for Belizeans, the role of government cannot continue to function in its present state and it will eventually lead to a complete breakdown of the system. The cracks and leaks of the system are highlighted with each scandal that breaks seemingly on a weekly basis. When one crack is sealed, it creates pressure in another area and it breaks somewhere else.
The third term win for the Prime Minister Dean Barrow and the United Democratic Party will be their toughest term. They are facing a world that is growing weary of corrupted governments worldwide. The first world countries will hold countries like Belize accountable for the breakdown in the system because breakdown in developing countries exposes the first world to terrorism, cyber crime, drug trafficking and money laundering. The casual manner in how we govern makes Belize vulnerable and Belize must take a proactive approach to address this. Public servants must become a professional body built on meritocracy. The average citizen must know that the system works for the average man because they are becoming cynical with the process. Citizens must trust their government and recent scandals have highlighted a strong distrust and cynicism from electorate. The opposition will need to agitate because they want a better governing system and they must move away from petty, distracted politics. They must rebuild into a party that advocates transparency and accountability by examining their own internal leaks and cracks. Belize must turn to experts to address this crisis.
The citizens will grow more dissatisfied as these breakdowns continue. The United Democratic Party will be judged now by their merits. There will be no one to blame anymore, so they MUST identify key people to assist with this rebuilding of Belize’s integrity and trust. The rise of the communication age, people will be able to disseminate and organize and agitate…Democracy is alive and kicking, but we need government- all parties to work!