By Wellington C. Ramos
In most of the former British colonies that Great Britain ruled during the colonial era, including my country Belize, they all have a central government system in place. Political parties in these countries select their party leaders and if they win the majority of seats in the House of Representatives, they become the prime minister of the country for five years. Once they assume office, their political party controls everything in the country and the opposition parties and members are at their mercy.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
In my country, the People’s United Party (PUP) has governed more times than the leading opposition party, namely, the United Democratic Party (UDP), which is currently in power. Last year, the country of Belize had elections and the United Democratic Party won consecutively another five year term. This was the first time it happened in their party’s political history. In the Belize government’s cabinet there is a minister of local government who is responsible for all the villages, towns and cities in the country. Any of these municipalities that need money must go through this minister. If the minister decides not to give them any money, then nothing will happen in their municipalities.
The preference is always given to a village, town or city mayor and council from their own political party. For years now this has been the way money is distributed to the municipalities by both the PUP and the UDP. Recently, I read a news report in which the chairman of an opposition party, namely, Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) Hubert Enriquez, was complaining about corruption in the political system. The PUP mayor of Dangriga, Gilbert Swaso, along with other PUP mayors from Orange Walk and Punta Gorda towns, were also complaining about the unequal and unfair distribution of government’s funds with him. Well, the UDP will reply by saying to them: When you all were in control of the central government, you all did the same thing to us.
This will never change in Belize unless the House of Representatives passes local government reform legislation granting them more autonomy. The growth of the cities, towns and villages is currently stifled due to this dilemma.
The VIP chairman was talking about corruption in Belize and stated that the government of Belize should sign on to the United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention. The government of Belize will not listen to Mr Hubert Enriquez or take his advice. What Mr Enriquez will be better off doing is to use this issue to try and garner grassroots support so that his political party can gain support from Belizeans throughout the country of Belize for the next general election in 2017. His political party is getting older and has not come close in winning a seat in the Belize House of Representatives. It is now time for them to examine their role in Belize’s political future. Belizeans have never elected an independent candidate or a person from a third party to the Belize House of Representatives. Why? Because they think that such a vote will be a complete waste of their time due to the winner take all political system we have in our country.
This type of political system fosters favoritism, corruption and vindictiveness and should be changed. Many Belizeans that currently live in the United States were victims of this type of politics. Some of them have indicated to me that they will never go back to Belize and live. Others have given it a try and went back home but only to experience the same thing happening when they returned home. I believe that if we were to change this system in our country, we would experience more growth throughout our villages, towns and cities. Also, many more Belizeans who live in the United States that were victimized in the past, who have a lot to contribute, would return home.
Belize has a small population and many people are related to each other. The time is now right for us to table local government reform legislation in the national assembly so that our country can develop faster and our people can benefit from our resources equitably nationwide.