Minister of Education Patrick Faber found himself in an exchange with the President of the Belize National Teachers Union Elena Smith. The exchange took on a life of its own when Smith looked to social media to file a complaint against Faber over the name of a preschool in Camalote. According to Smith she was an innocent bystander who was merely curious as to who was Betty Brown Pott. Smith wrote, quote, “Betty Brown Pott school? Why da name sound familiar? Da fi who ma that? Hmmm makes me wonder.” End of quote. We’ll tell you who exactly is Betty Brown Pott in a few. Right now we’ll tell you how the matter got very heated, garnering hundreds of comments from the court of public opinion. While Smith’s tone in her post could be viewed as mere curiousity, it could also be seen as being loaded with sarcasm. Either way, Faber went on the defensive accusing Smith of disrespecting his mother and referring to her as a ‘low life’. Yes! it did escalate quickly and both Smith and Faber were forced to tell their sides of the story to the media. We begin with Smith’s explanation.
Senator Elena Smith, President, Belize National Teachers Union: “I asked a question or I asked questions. Never did I say anything negative, rude or anything about his mother or never did I refer to person as being his mother so I don’t know how it came about that he felt, whoever sent my post to him sent it with some kind of intentions so start there. Whoever was the person who sent him that post wanted to create some issues and either he did not read properly or because of all that he’s going through right now you know his comprehension skills right now twisted a bit because he’s so busy maybe I don’t know he didn’t understand the text or it was just his way of behaving. I don’t know. I don’t know if I ought to know her because if she’s not a member of the union and I don’t know all of my members alright so all of my members would know me because I’m one person to remember but it’s difficult for me to remember all of the members of the BNTU. We have over six thousand teachers in this country. But I first encountered his mother about thirteen or so years ago maybe fourteen years ago when my son and his daughter were in high school together, they were in the same class and so when I first met her I met her as Ms.Pott so that was the name I knew her as for many years; we were never friends but we were never enemies if you understand what I’m saying. So I’ve never referred to her as any other name but Ms.Pott.”
Reporter: And the first name ?
Senator Elena Smith, President, Belize National Teachers Union: “After some years I found out that her name as far as I understand it is Elizabeth so I know her as Elizabeth Pott.”
In the court of public opinion Union President Elena Smith was accused of playing politics. She was also accused of personally attacking the Minister of Education and garnering the support of fellow teachers. Smith responded to those allegations denying any ulterior motives.
Senator Elena Smith, President, Belize National Teachers Union: “That is politics okay? So people will assume that that is so. Don’t forget that I am president of BNTU but I am also my own person and so whether I am speaking as Elena Smith or BNTU President I have every right to question things. I was simply questioning what was happening. I did not even question whether the person deserved to have a school named after her none of that was questioned it was just who is this person. I heard on the news the chairman talking about what was transpiring and how the villagers felt and what they wanted about the situation so as I said I know that the mother’s name is Pott so I thought well maybe it could be somebody related to the husband, somebody who is politically connected, somebody who is politically from the village or so that they might be giving that person because of politics the name but I did not associate the name Betty Brown with his mother. In my view me questioning and the response that the Minister sent to me based on my questions were in my view day and night. I was asking a question and he chose that he would respond to me with an insult. Had I posted anything about his mother that was negative and that was his response I would have lapped my tail and I would have said I deserved it.”
On the other side of the token, Faber was accused of nepotism. He was accused of acting high-handedly and using his powers to name a school after his mother. Faber responded to the criticism expressing regret and apologizing for the entire situation.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports: “I regret being baited into that situation and for those who have said “Lord man Faber this is not behavior that is becoming of a Prime Ministerial aspirant.” then I apologize but I will not apologize for defending my mother’s name and I will not apologize for accepting to put something in her honor when she did that in her own right. It should not be held against her that her son is the Minister of Education, longest serving Minister of Education, and if it were that things would change as Johnny Brieno says it will that they certainly won’t honor her and give her the kind of – they’re not like us you see how we still name the bypass road the John Smith Link Road and we still honor their-because we’re not into playing that kind of politics. But I will say that in my view it is unfortunate that the union president- and I think she’s completely disingenuous when she says she didn’t know I think it was that kind of personal attack and I stand behind my position there but in so far as it might not have been the best thing to do under these campaign circumstances where you’re trying to convince people you know of other things in this election season and knowing fully well that it is as I’ve said to you the kind of season where people will come and throw attacks then I should have had better judgment and I apologize if I offended anyone.”
Reporter: You did go as far as to refer to her as an idiot.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports: “I did not. I said, in fact this is a part of the problem but I don’t want to take it any further she did not share with you the entire conversation she had select quotations she chose but as I’ve said I don’t wish to take it further. I should have used better judgment and if it offended her or anybody else I apologize. It is not normally how I would want to operate but you understand when you touch the very delicate tone of my mother then that sent the thing another way and I apologize for that.”
Faber went on to say that this issue with Smith is not a reflection of any issues between the BNTU and the Ministry of Education. He added that the union is currently on a move to revive Proposal 22.