Opposition and national unions condemn corruption

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) has been the center of attention over the past weeks following the scandal regarding the relationship of former Minister of National Security Honourable John Saldivar and international fraudster Lev Dermen. Adding fuel to the fire is the $1.5 billion that was allegedly spent unconstitutionally by Prime Minister Right Honourable Dean Barrow. To show the current government their dissatisfaction, all 10 unions in Belize shared a series of conditions for the government to implement prior to this year’s general elections, while the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) is set for a demonstration on Sunday, February 23rd in Belize City.

PM Dean Barrow

The UDP head of government came under fire, first on January 31, 2020, after Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin of the Supreme Court found Prime Minister Barrow liable for unconstitutionally spending over a billion dollars. The Chief Justice highlighted that Barrow spent the funds without parliamentary approval, which, according to the Constitution of Belize and the Finance and Audit Reform Act, is a violation. The prime minister was given a period of six months to amend the constitution in order to validate the spending, for which he needs two-thirds of the National Assembly. Barrow does not count with such support, thus, he stated via letter on February 17th that no amendment will be sought, and rather the ruling will be appealed since his government finds Benjamin’s ruling unsatisfactory.

John Saldivar

The issue with Saldivar came after February 9th following his election as UDP Party Leader. A testimony given by Dermen’s associate, Jacob Kingston, at a court in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA crippled Saldivar’s chances of officially leading the UDP. Jacob not only said that Saldivar received thousands of dollars from Dermen, a fraudster, but text messages between them and the former minister revealed their deeds, which Saldivar had been adamantly denying. Saldivar was asked to resign as party leader, which he did. He also resigned from Cabinet. However, he continues to maintain his innocence, saying that he received such funds as a campaign contribution, contrary to bribery allegations.
With all these recent developments within the UDP, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) released a 6-point anti-corruption and good governance agenda. The agenda aims to ensure more transparency in governance. At a press briefing on Monday, February 17th, President of the Belize National Teachers Union, Senator Elena Smith, NTUCB’s President, Marvin Mora, and the Southern Christian Workers Union Executive, Hubert Enriquez, addressed the situation.

The message sent to the government demands that there should be no general elections until there is an implementation of campaign financing laws that mandates existing and aspiring politicians to disclose the source of their campaign financing exceeding $1,000BZ. The demand also requests limits on campaign contributions from individual donors and organizations. The unions are also demanding the beginning of procedures for the second phase of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC). Another demand was the tabling of the Senate Report on the Immigration Department and the carrying out of police investigations and convictions. Other petitions included liability for those who contravened, violate or did not comply with provisions of the Finance and Audit Act and an independent investigation into the alleged wrongdoing of Saldivar and any other public officials engaged in questionable activities.
During the press briefing, Mora explained that the issue is with governance, and not against any political party. Senator Smith backed Mora’s comment stressing that this is an issue about the country’s future. The move to come out and denounce the government’s alleged corruption has been dubbed ‘Only the people can save the people,’ and hopes to join forces with the Non-Governmental Community, Business Community, parents, students and anyone who is concern about Belize.

Honorable John Brinceno

Attorney General and newly installed Minister of National Security, Honourable Michael Peyrefitte told the media on Wednesday, February 18th that the unions’ demonstration is unnecessary. He referred to the UNCAC, indicating that a final report needs to get done before anything can happen. “The United Nations had said that it needs to come out before we embark on any projects or a reconstitution of the committee. Let’s wait for the final report, then we can convene the committee and from there we can start to prioritize which of the recommendations made by the UN we want to implement,” said Peyrefitte. He added that the unions are free to continue with their march, as they are free to do so.
Meanwhile, PUP Party Leader Honourable John Briceño shared the same sentiments as the NTUCB on the allegations of UDP’s administration wrongdoings. The Opposition is therefore inviting all concerned Belizeans, who are tired of corruption to participate in a peaceful demonstration on Sunday, February 23rd. The intended march is set for 11:30AM from Fabers Road in Belize City.


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