It is an election year and one of the surest things in this season is the party manifesto launch. Today, at the People’s United Party (PUP) conference, the party stated that their focus should they become the ruling party, is to eliminate corruption and aiding the people of Belize amongst others. During the party leader, John Briceno’s speech he listed and explained what the party intends to do if they are elected into power.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “First, we will ensure an independent Public Accounts Committee. One that’s strengthen so that substantive ministers cannot be members of the PAC. As well, all House Committee meetings including PAC meetings will be opened to the public and streamed live. Second, the Integrity Commission must do its job effectively. To do so it should no longer be controlled by the party in government. Likewise we will put in place a mechanism to ensure the financial independence of the Integrity Commission with a budget to be approved directly by the National Assembly. They need the tools and personnel to get the job done. Third, the recent crisis of misappropriation of government funds is a clear indication that we need a strong and independent office of the Auditor General. The next PUP government will ensure that the Auditor General’s Office has unrestricted access to information and with full powers of investigation including subpoena powers to ensure that requests for information and documentations are complied with expeditiously. The Auditor General’s office will be permitted to submit their budget directly to the National Assembly for approval. Most important, we will ensure that the Auditor General is allowed to present reports directly to the National Assembly and not only to the Prime Minister. Fourth, the PUP will not only implement UNCAC but we will also enact campaign finance legislation. In the first one hundred days the new PUP government will direct the Office of the Attorney General to draft campaign finance legislation which will be subject to national consultations and review before a final bill is tabled and passed into law. Fifth, we must make the National Assembly function as the centerpiece of our government, complete with all requisite checks and balances. That means that the next PUP government will ensure a minimum of one house sitting per month. Sixth, we demand Senator Aldo Salazar to immediately release the findings of the Senate Select Committee on the hustle at the Department o f Immigration.”
Aside from the long-term goals, the PUP has also stated that there are various moves that are coming into play as early as today.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “Our immediate actions will start today as I instruct our legal team to write the Financial Secretary to request copies of all warrants signed by the Minister of Finance during the current fiscal year. We will demand copies of all contracts issued for over $5 million dollars that were not brought to the National Assembly for approval. We want to see how much has been spent and what is outstanding. All such contracts and all spending under such contracts are in violation of law. There was no Contractor General for approximately two years therefore we will demand copies of all contracts that were issued without the approval of the Contractor General; these contracts must be made null and void. Finally, we will be writing the international financial institutions including the IMF, CDB, World Bank, the IDB and informing them of the unprecedented criminality of the UDP government. All foreign funding of illegal contracts must be subject to review to determine the extent of illegality. Belizeans should not be made to pay for loans that were made to fund contracts under illegal circumstances.”
Among the many platforms that the PUP is campaigning on is that of political interference in the Belize Police Department. According to John Briceno, the party has discussed establishing laws to insulate the police from political hindrances.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “We have to look at the whole structure of the police department. I mean we’re just at the early stages in talking but when I met the commandant of the Coast Guard he said one organizational weakness that they see in the police department is that there is no career path, it’s almost like – and now I’m saying this – that it seems you join the police and depending on who you know you go up the ranks it’s not depending on what are your talents. In the BDF and the Coast Guard you either join to be a regular soldier or to be an officer and if you’re being an officer then you get certain types of training to be able to manage and to run that organization. Maybe we need to reconsider doing some of that. I think we also need to start to put some stronger laws to insulate the police from political interference but it also has to require some political will on our part to ensure that we cannot be interfering directly with the police department.”
As we told you the party is focused on fighting corruption. The media asked John Briceno if he is prepared to see any of his cabinet colleagues go to jail. Briceno stated that once the legislation is changed there is nothing, he can do for them.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “If you are to look back at interviews that I have given and some presentations that have been given I have been talking about setting up an independent anti corruption agency, commission, body whichever -“
Reporter: Independent is not enough though because those people here can be bought as well.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “Let me finish, let me finish. Please let me finish. And that that commission is going to be managed not only by politicians but also by the private sector and our social partners and I went one step further to say that probably the first person to manage this should be a foreigner that maybe we can go to the United Nations and ask them to give us such person that can be able to manage this body with a mandate that they could and should investigate any and everybody. Now I would not want to see any of my colleagues in jail but we have been talking about that over and over and everybody is quite aware that when we change these laws and we implement these laws I would not be able to help them; nobody will be able to help them and they will have to fend for themselves.”
Today’s conference was held at the Ramada Princess Hotel in Belize City. It had the participation of PUP standard-bearers, area representatives and supporters.