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An Unholy Alliance

An Unholy Alliance
June 29
07:42 2019

By Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d)

By now it should be clear that there is an unholy alliance between Belize’s political class and a significant (but increasing) segment of Belize’s public service. It is this unholy alliance that has provided the enabling environment for corruption; corruption that is now so deeply rooted that it threatens our very democracy.

Public officers are the only class of workers named in the Belize Constitution. Part VIII of the Constitution speaks to the public service and it establishes a Public Service Commission. It is the Commission which is constitutionally mandated to appoint and discipline public officers other than those who serve in the Judiciary or the security forces. In the exercise of its functions the Commission is governed by the regulations made by the Governor General with the advice of the Minister with responsibility for the public service.

The control of the public service is therefore the sole province of the Commission. It must have been the intent of the framers of the Constitution to have a public service that serves the people and not the politician. The public service was to be in the service of the Belizean people and nobody else and so constitutionally, the public service was insulated from the Executive.

When exactly the Executive was able to wrest control of the public service from the Commission is a matter of perspective I guess, but there can be no doubt that the Executive now exerts undue, and often improper, influence on the day-to-day functions of the public service.
It is my view that the usurpation of the powers of the Commission started during the Esquivel Administration and was solidified under the Musa Administration. Mr. Barrow came along and mastered it.

The Commission which should be the body appointing public servants has for all intents and purposes been replaced by nothing more than a hand written note from a politician. It soon became a race to see who could stuff the public service with the most political loyalists. It is a well known secret that one representative from Orange Walk filled his ministry with people from his constituency. No job applications, no vetting interviews, no approvals from the Commission!
In hindsight we know why he did so, as we would later come to learn of the swindle of thousands of acres of Belizean land. None of the people he placed in his ministry looked after the interests of the Belizean people. Their loyalty was to the one who gave them a job, not to the Belizean people.

Public servants are critical to good governance therefore if the public service is rotted you end up with poor governance. And if you do not believe that poor governance can lead you to hell just have a look at Venezuela. The richest nation in all of Latin America yet her people starve: the result of foreign machinations yes, but a crisis exacerbated by a corrupt public service that stopped serving the people and began instead, to serve the politicians.

In Belize, the public service and the politicians have created a lucrative symbiotic relationship where they both climb the social and economic ladder together. Ostentatious lifestyles are not uncommon for some public officers, especially those at Customs, Lands, vital stats and Immigration. They have such good political connections that they no longer fear the “authorities.” The FIU has not once peered into the finances of any of those public officers who are clearly living above their means. Hand wash hand they say noh?

Since by design no government resources can be dispersed without a public officer’s authorization, how is it that corruption has taken root in Belize? Every year the Auditor General’s report looks like the previous one. Her complaint is like a broken record: lack of access to important information held by guess who? A public officer!

The Auditor General’s role is important to our democracy but year in and year out she is tripped up by public officers whose loyalty to the ruling politicians trumps their loyalty to the people of Belize. In a real democracy those public officers would be brought up on charges but in Belize, they have political ‘backative’ yes, but they also know where the bones are buried. And so the beat goes on: one fi you; one fi me!

When we speak of corruption in Belize we often point fingers at the politician. We seldom point at the public officers. Truth be told, there is no way that our political leaders could have done the things they have without the support, tacit or otherwise, of some public officers. Penner, Gapi, Barrow, Ralph, Said – all did what they did because there were public officers who were prepared to ignore their duty to the Belizean people.

Perhaps our public officers have come to the conclusion that it is pointless to sacrifice their careers for us. We who do nothing to protect them when they step forward in our defence. We who allow them to be transferred at the whim of some political operative. We who run to hug the very corrupt politician they warned us about.

Many public officers will immediately internalize my treatise and become mad at me even though I have said nothing that is untrue; but that is how we behave in Belize.

I am not saying that every public officer is corrupt or that every public officer is a political crony. I am saying that too many are and as a result our country’s development has been stalled. It has been stalled for a number of reasons but most prominently because the very good and decent public officers (who are the majority in my view) are stymied in the execution of their jobs whether by fear or by sins of omission. In many respects we can’t blame them. When during the Immigration Senate hearing senor members of the Immigration Department told us of the corruption what did we do to insulate them from the attacks that followed? Nada!

If we are to take back Belize we must first start by taking back the public service. Only then will we have a chance of real development. Until then, this unholy alliance will continue to suffocate us.

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