In 2004, the young passionate Dean Barrow railed against undiluted corruption from the then PUP government. He promised a special machete sharpened on both sides to chop away corruption from the head. The imagery was action packed and powerful. I saw a future PM chopping feverishly away at the uncontrollable weeds of corruption growing as he desperately tries to fight it before it stagnates and chokes the country of Belize.
Fast Forward to 2019 and after three unprecedented terms, the now UDP government led by the then passionate Dean Barrow, seems to have thrown in his machete, killed it and surrendered to the power of the weeds.
I write this because I am disappointed in where we are a people. After 38 years of Independence, not one new city has been built, barely any new university programs, poor medical system and on and on. In fact, politicians are proud to hand a poor citizen, living in destitute conditions, a low-quality plywood house and without shame, blast it publicly, after all that is the very least some of them are willing to do.
The life of the average Belizean has not seen substantial gains even with billions of investments pouring through the country via Real Estate, Banking, Tourism, Money Laundering and a thriving drug trade. The ultimate victims will the youths and future generations who will have to bear the consequences of unchecked and wanton corruption. The most visible victims are mostly black males fighting for dollars without sense and engaging in a tragic self-annihilation.
The Politicians, Legal community and Public Servants have become co-conspirators and experts of transferring public assets into private hands. They are providing substandard services; creaming off the top while they shamelessly fill their pockets during the growing despair. The once revered public service career has shifted from government with ethics, vision and purpose to one of of self-enrichment.
The Prime Minister of Belize and the UDP members are in full group think mode [i]. Recently one UDP ex-politician and radio commentator commented on his Facebook page that he is okay with corruption because he is seeing progress in the country. He and many others spend their social media time in “who is more corrupted” comparison fights. It is an indictment of how far they have fallen off the rails. The scandals are growing, the public lands and monies are being fleeced, but I must say that the Joshua Perdomo saga is one for the books. One can only look on with awe as this young man from a prominent family has created such a political storm. The entire saga has exposed the UDP for a serious lack of consciousness, ethics, legal and moral obligations of their duties as leaders and custodians of the people’s resources and their inadequate response to the public outcry.
Why is Joshua Perdomo such a sore point? The attempt to write off happened at the start of the school year when many families were/are struggling with school fees for their own children. Some children were barred from attending school because of overdue school fees. Many public officers are currently working off their bonds and commitments. Additionally, the Belize population is grappling with poorly investigated cases and lack of justice in the system. Joshua Perdomo was given a bond to study a field that is desperately needed in Belize. UDP has failed miserably to make the connection and instead have given tone deaf, win at all costs media interviews that reeks of arrogance. Maybe some re-reading of Animal Farm is needed.
Once again, a gaping hole is exposed, and one must seriously ask – What is the function of politicians in our governance? The IMF has issued a serious warning to Belize. Belize, you are borrowing too much money, you are servicing debt at 100%. Corruption is undermining your institutions and you need to be at 60% debt servicing. It is a serious picture of things to come. How can the government of Belize reduce its obligations by 40%? If you are an employee or a taxpayer that is a very serious question you will be facing soon.
The PM engaged in an epic and philosophical battle with Lord Ashcroft, lost the war and in the end the taxpayers are holding the multi-million dollar bill. During the war, a significant amount of money were paid for legal fees to private attorneys, even though the Government has an entire ministry of attorneys dedicated to government business and there is a judgment that looms …
Does the Government of Belize have a valuation department and a collection agency? Who is tasked with ensuring that the people’s money and the people’s resources are protected from this abuse? Who is the oversight committee that protects the resources of the people from malfeasance of the public officer?
In the span of two weeks, Belizeans witnessed the selling off the people’s assets for pennies on the dollar. Lots in Belmopan worth upwards of fifty thousand dollars sold off for a measly one thousand dollars and without the electorate’s knowledge or permission.
The City Council is also involved in the selloff of a Belmopan iconic spot. The secret sale happened while housing the Public Service Union. We have sunk so low that the politicians no longer fear who is arguably the most power union. Adding to the sting was the secret sale was done by Belmopanese to a non- Belmopanese and a questionable Belizean. The new owner through the services of a non-Belmopan attorney has issued a threat of eviction. Belmopan people are territorial…. I am not even sure that UDP in group thinking mode phantoms the political capital at this Judas act.
The final nail in the machete’s coffin can be attributed to the Prime Minister’s response to the Joshua Perdomo write off. There are many things wrong with his letter, but I will highlight two points. The Prime minister said “having remained dumb” intended as a double entendre with the intention to insult the leader of the Opposition is a highly offensive politically incorrect term and especially since his wife is an advocate in the special needs space. More importantly, the PM argues that the bond is noncollectable, and that Joshua Perdomo is beyond the reach of the law. Joshua Perdomo has a co-signer who lives in Belize which makes the bond collectible and within the reach of the law. Additionally, neither the PM, nor the AG, nor any member of the party have told the Belizean people what methods were attempted to collect the bond. Was he written letters? Was a lawsuit filed? After the long diatribe of deflecting responsibility and turning it finally to Joshua Perdomo’s conscience, he came off as tone deaf and angry.
I argue that Joshua Perdomo has more than a moral obligation; Joshua Perdomo has a legal obligation to pay the bond; but even more important, the Prime Minister and in his capacity as Minister of Finance, has a legal, moral and fiduciary duty to attend to the affairs of the people’s money . My measuring stick is simple – Would you PM allow your personal businesses to be managed similarly as how government’s money and resources are being handled?
[i] Groupthink requires individuals to avoid raising controversial issues or alternative solutions, and there is loss of individual creativity, uniqueness and independent thinking. The dysfunctional group dynamics of the “ingroup” produces an “illusion of invulnerability” (an inflated certainty that the right decision has been made). Thus the “ingroup” significantly overrates its own abilities in decision-making and significantly underrates the abilities of its opponents (the “outgroup“). Furthermore, groupthink can produce dehumanizing actions against the “outgroup”) – Wikipedia