Letter to the Editor: CORRUPTION IN BELIZE – My Experience, Perspective, and Suggested Solutions

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

Dear Editor:
Attached is the winning essay, university level: Corruption in Belize for you to consider in your publication. This essay by my son, a Washington University of Health & Science student, highlights San Pedro and I thought its residents should read.
Thank you,
Mary Boiton

Submitted by Jamal Genitty
Washington University of Health and Science

Corruption within a country is best described as the ruthless mismanagement and pilfering of public funds and resources for personal gain to the disregard of its citizens, depriving them of their constitutional human rights. In the presence of Good Governance, there is honesty, integrity, transparency, accountability, and responsiveness. Corruption brings a gradual change for the worse, a demoralizing process, destabilizing a society and rendering great harm to a nation. Corruption has strong connections between officials, politicians, and criminals, infiltrating every aspect of a vulnerable society. This alternative system of government tends to give a few absolute power, and to quote Lord Acton who said, as far back as 1887, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
In our country of Belize, corruption is not a new phenomenon and has spread its roots in government and private sectors. In the ensuing years after Belize gained its independence in 1981, the country was slowly gaining economic strength and showing strides of becoming a great, productive nation. However, it seems to have become infected with the widespread disease of corruption, the nation becoming alarmingly reminiscent of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. The Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act has not been enforced since coming into effect in 1994, which means that some public officials have not been truthfully disclosing their assets, income, and liabilities. The Integrity Commission, the body that investigates allegations of corrupt activities has also not been re-established since 2011. Responsible to monitor, prevent and combat corruption by examining declarations of physical assets and financial positions filed by the public, the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act was last publicly reported in 2005. No cases under this Act have ever led to prosecution. Belize’s anti-corruption laws are seldom enforced. The current administration was recently pressured into signing onto the UN Convention against Corruption Act (UNCAC) by the Belize Teacher’s Union. Belize scored 29 points out of 100 (0 =highly corrupt) on the 2008 Corruption Perception Index reported by Transparency International and since then the government has chosen not to participate. The country’s administration is being operated under no checks and balances, but in favor, recognized ties with family and class preference. The most recent publicly available audit of the GOB’s accounts is for year ending March 2012 and noted that “these financial statements did not reflect a true and fair position of government’s financial position” Belize’s natural resources have been steadily depleted for private and personal gain; the source of illicit gain reaching out into thousands of private channels. Because of private gain, focus has been lost on the development of productive sectors, leaving over 40% of its population living in poverty. These communities therefore lack the capacity to mobilize their own internal resources for their development.
The community in which I have been living and studying, the beautiful town of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, is a community of people and an array of places which I have grown to know and love. A town produced by the value, worth and sacrifice of a proud Belizean citizenry, a community who has placed its development and upliftment in the hands of opportunistic politicians ruled by self-interest.

During the short years that I have been living in this town, local government officials have been involved in escalating and numerous controversial scandals on issues of alleged mass land scam, selling of passports, driver’s license, golf cart permits, building permits, buying votes, facilitating illegal voting, selling of residency, nationality, work permits, manipulation of town council files, favorable treatments and nepotism, ties to police corruption, illegal dredging, controversial development allowing the destruction of our natural resources, selling of prime land meant for the distribution to the residents, subdividing the island’s wetlands and mangroves for votes, poor infrastructure and building quality of town projects, illegal garbage disposal, non-accountability of revenues such as bridge tolls, grants, etc. and pocketing vast sums of money from foreign investors which never trickle down to the local economy and the masses.
With this level of corruption, the town of San Pedro has become riddled with many health and environmental problems, a steady increase in alcohol consumption, an ever increasing crime rate, high inflation, roads in disrepair, and deplorable housing conditions for the general workforce population who keep the tourism industry going. These citizens are dependent on the government for housing, healthcare, education, security and welfare, and face increasing levels of poverty and inequality. Many of Belize’s young are living in squalor with unclean drinking water and inadequate nutrition along the back half of the island of San Pedro in some cases just a few hundred feet from upscale resorts. Even though San Pedro is a huge tax base, very little of the revenue (millions upon millions) stay and very little is done to improve the standards of living of its people. Despite being a prime tourist destination, there is still no government community hospital and the vulnerable citizens lack most of the medical services provided in other municipalities. The promise of opening even one government school for the island’s children has never happened. The few schools in San Pedro are either private, parochial schools or only partially funded by the country’s government.
Involving an informed, participating citizenry can eliminate the opportunity for thievery and greed. It is my opinion that some local consultation process and public hearings should be set to keep the citizens informed and abreast of policies, tendering procedures and budgetary issues, which should be evaluated by a proper auditing commission. Appropriate harsh punishment should be considered and enforced for violation of these laws. The government and private sector should invest in the creation of new opportunities for citizens lacking technical and vocational skills by setting up Youth and Adult Education Programs, Human Resource Development Programs, and Community Outreach Development Programs. The people of our beloved nation deserve political leaders that will be responsive to their needs, requests and making the best use of its resources, and less susceptible to corruption.

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