By Frank Edward Paco Smith, Jr. JP
On 13th March, it was reported that the Organisation of American States (OAS) Anti-Corruption Mission intends to conduct a site visit to Belize. Needless to say, upon reading this, I was immediately hit with a myriad of thoughts. For those who are not aware, let it be known that their visit should prove “instructive”, at the very least.
Paco Smith staunchly advocates the emergence of civil society to serve as a proactive force toward positive change within the policy development arena. Among his many involvements, he is a co-founder of the group Belizean Patriots against the ICJ.
If the OAS is genuine in its effort concerning this matter, they had better re-double their efforts because a truly in-depth assessment of the legal/institutional framework of my nation, coupled with an impartial analysis of both recent and current matters, should reveal that Belize (unfortunately) will prove a classic case-study in institutionalised corruption.
Although, they need not delve much further than the recent case involving the actions of former Minister Elvin Penner, buttressed by his Cabinet colleagues’ blatant attempts to shield him from scrutiny, I certainly hope they do! Thankfully, the aforementioned matter resulted in the chief justice issuing a writ of mandamus, which effectively directed the Compol to do his job and investigate former minister Penner
. Needless to say, there is no doubt the prevailing powers that be are not too pleased with the decision.
One may be inclined to argue that due to the structure of our legal system, this was made possible. That may be true and thankfully, the CJ demonstrated that irrespective of potential political consequences down the road, he did the just thing. The crux of the matter is in the fact that given the architecture of our legal system, the current administration was able to "legally" postpone former minister Penner coming under the appropriate scrutiny. It remains to be seen whether it is a case of ‘too little, too late’.
Had the opposition not done what they are expected to do, more than likely this would have gone like 'butter gainst the sun', just as so many other scandals and wrongdoings by the political elite and well-connected. I am not inclined to bestow credit on the aforementioned because anyone who knows anything about politics in Belize is aware that the move by the opposition was not purely altruistic. For those who are attuned such a move by the opposition against the current government, given the symbiotic relationship shared between the PUP and the UDP, clearly demonstrates just how high the stakes have become, concerning the need to demonstrate to the people that one of the two, is presumably better than the other.
The fact is, the opposition did what needed to be done, of course, with a view toward improving their standing among the electorate both at present and in the foreseeable future. Let us not forget that scheduled, general elections are slated for not too far in the future. But the bottom line is that given the form of governance employed in Belize, the opposition is ever-ready to capitalise on any and all ill-conceived actions by the seated administration.
With that in mind, the OAS has its work cut out for them, because there remains the ever-present case of Minister of State Edmund Castro and his alleged involvement in a variety of less-than-honourable "involvements
". The list doesn't stop there and I urge whosoever comprises the OAS mission to do a thorough job.
Mind you, it will more than likely result in that of an overwhelming experience. Additionally, I implore you to look well beyond the “appropriate” and “superfluous” words issued by those on behalf of the government because they amount to not even a hill of beans, as it was extolled, “I will simply have to do what my duty and conscience tell me I must do and live with the consequences…”
In reference to the aforesaid words uttered by the PM in the following link
given how matters have thus far panned-out involving his scandal-riddled Cabinet, the discerning eye should be able to determine that his conscience evidently told him not to do the right thing and attempt to shelter Penner. If such was not the case, the entire matter of seeking a writ of mandamus need not have come into the equation.
There is no doubt whatsoever that corruption is rife in Belize, at all levels... especially at the "top". The arrogance of those who have been entrusted with ensuring the best interest of our nation is paramount, has reached unprecedented levels, as is evidenced by my earlier example. In effect, that is simply the tip of the iceberg and once the OAS is serious about doing a thorough analysis, whether or not their intent is genuine shall be easily discerned, based on those with whom they ultimately meet, during their mission.
To the OAS, I hold out hope that this is not yet another exercise in pushing papers, but an earnest effort to: identify, highlight, expose and analyse corruption in Belize, both within and among the legal constructs, coupled with an acknowledgement of those things that are occurring in real-time! Who knows, if you are forthright enough, maybe the effects of your resultant report might spur the powers that be, to sign the document authored by Transparency International which also addresses the issue of corruption and disclosure.
That, of course, is not only wishful thinking, it is of the “pie in the sky” genre because among the "powers that be", they are both corrupt and emboldened to levels never before seen in Belize. Nonetheless, they remain keen to the legal framework within which they can "legally" continue to disavow the trust of the people and evade possible prosecution. This reality is inevitably led by unscrupulous and deceitful lawyer-politicians, who are given the opportunity to continue this madness, by the electorate, as they continue to exchange the two halves of the PUPD equation.
In Belize, from a political standpoint, we have continued to exercise political insanity by voting for the same institutional perpetrators, hoping that some way and somehow, different results shall be achieved. Indeed, it is a sad state of affairs. Therefore, once again, I recommend the OAS Anti-Corruption Mission prepare itself for the malaise of dishonesty and fraudulence that is unfortunately synonymous with governance in Belize.
Although I love Belize with all my heart, given the calibre of “responsible leadership" (or lack thereof across the board), to which we have subjected ourselves via successive administrations; it is regrettably and assuredly, a cesspool of corruption. Those who dare challenge this view, I assert, are undeniably beneficiaries (in one form or another) of the corruption which abounds.