As we noted there are six points that the unions are demanding from the Government. All the points are based on putting a stop to corruption including the enacting of legislation, investigations into alleged corruption and systems that would deter future acts of corruption. This demonstration, however, is not the first time that these demands have been heard or appealed for. Senator Mark Lizarraga, who represents the business sector, has brought up the issues of transparency and accountability on several occasions in Senate meetings.
Mark Lizarraga, Senator for Business: “There are many organizations that have been calling for these types of reforms and they’ve fallen on deaf ears. As a matter of fact when this very government came to power it came to power recognizing that we needed reforms in certain areas, they were supported by the very unions that are out here today demonstrating against them and we knew that things needed to be changed. Those things unfortunately twelve years later have not changed. The call is not a new call but I think that the focus today is look we have to make this call again and we have to place perhaps a little firmer emphasis on demands. You know we really need to set deadlines, we really need to tell people we need these things now, we need to get them in place before we move ahead. So I think it’s an important first step. I think you know that when the Belizean people wake up and get involved in the democracy drastic changes have happened in our country when we demanded change. So today is, I believe, a very important step along that process in our growth towards working the democracy, in our growth towards learning to work the democratic process. This is not something unique to Belize it is something that we see all over the world, people come up and demand their rights and demand that the people that administrate for them govern with equity, govern for all of us and not just for their constituents but govern for the whole country and we’ve seen politicians perhaps lose their way and where they focus only on their constituents and of a particular color when their job is really to go to Belmopan, pass legislation that will affect and improve all our lives not just their constituents. So we need serious reform in this country, we need to hold people accountable when we send them to Belmopan, they shouldn’t rule us they should administrate on our behalf for those things that we want to see improved in our country. We know that corruption as well the scientific evidence that the people who suffer the most in a corrupt society are the poor people because it deprives them of their economic growth, it deprives them of many of the basic human needs like good security, good housing, good health care, affordable cost of living, all of these things are impacted directly by corruption in a country.”
Reporter: Where are you on the demand where the union is calling for an independent investigation into John Saldivar and all the named government officials and persons in the Dermen saga?
Mark Lizarraga, Senator for Business: “I think it goes beyond one person, I think there are many people. I think again you need to look at the whole system from a more holistic standpoint. I’m not going to get into the particulars of one individual case on that because if we started listing the amount of cases that needed investigating, I mean let us just start with the Auditor General’s Reports and how many calls has she made for investigations to be made. So it is the will, we need to see a change in will. I don’t think it is any one case but I’m not in disagreement with the demands of the unions or where they want to start; perhaps that is the pan on the burner today but there are many such things that need investigating.”
As it relates to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) that Belize signed onto in December 2016, Senator Osmany Salas pointed out that there hasn’t been a meeting for over one year to get the first phase of the UNCAC completed.
Osmany Salas, Senator for NGO’s: We signed and ratified that convention in 2016, at the end of 2016 and in 2017 and part of 2018 there was a flurry activities; a project board had been set up which our NGO network has been represented and I must say there was good activities happening from political education, about what UNCAC means and what it means for the country, the peer review where we had Haiti and Tuvalu representatives came to Belize to do a review of where we stand happened at the first phase but the project board has not met in over a year and a half despite repeated calls from the social partner reps, the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry rep, myself as the NGO rep, the NTUCB rep to the focal point which is the Attorney General’s Ministry saying we need to convene the project board and keep pushing forward. As we have heard the Attorney General on the news recently saying that there is little that we can do until the peer review reports are completed that really is not correct. There is a lot that we can do in the meantime and phase two of that peer review is long overdue and so the calls we have made in the past is that we need to keep the pressure on, we should not let down.”
With the recent Lev Dermen/Saldivar scandal, the call for campaign legisltation is being voiced much louder today. Senator Salas says the acceptance of politicians buying votes is one classic example of corruption.
Osmany Salas, Senator for NGO’s : “With campaign Finance legislation it’s a recognition that money politics has been bad for this country, political clientelism has been bad for this country. Politicians from all the various persuasions and colors have mastered the art of buying the elections, really, and to bring in money from various sources, highly questionable sources, external sources to use as inducement for the voters. We had the former Minister of National Security on your radio station effectively admitting and confessing that all politicians do it that that’s how it’s done and as if there’s nothing wrong with that and that is that is extremely sad and disheartening and why we need campaign finance legislation.
Reporter: But Senator let’s talk about how do we go against what has now been dubbed the norm because that is where I see a fundamental issue where voters, the electorate, the citizens have basically come to say ‘Oh all politicians do it.’ or PUP do it before so UDP just di follow or it’s like we keep on accepting everything all these things that affect us in a negative way as being a part of the norm so because we accept it as part of the norm then we say it’s okay, we turn a blind eye and politicians get away with it over and over and over and over. So how do we undo what has been dubbed the norm?
Osmany Salas, Senator for NGO’s : “I think the NTUCB came up with a very good tagline, which really says it all ‘Only the people can save the people’. It’s up to the people, the people have to be engaged but what has happened is that the politicians have become our patrons are we have become their clients. That is what we have in place right now. We have to turn that around it won’t be easy, but we have to do it. The only way it can happen is if we as individual citizens, residents, voters are engaged in our communities and our families and our communities in our constituencies because by not being engaged you is how the politicians get away with it. And when you hear the opposition, whichever party it is at the time say ‘Take the money and still vote for us.’, when you see the opposition whichever part it is at the time say ‘Accept the monies that come from the cheers programs, Christmas cheers, Mother’s Day cheers they are complicit in the very same thing that we must stop. This populism, this thing of handouts as people we must realize that it does nothing for us. It is, it has set us back it’s dangerous for a democracy and the politicians love that, that’s what they want and that is why, I have to be convinced, but politicians don’t want campaign finance reform, they don’t want electoral reform and the only way it can change is if we as people – and that’s why I am so proud of the unions for organizing this, the BNTU and the other unions it’s organizing the people that we can that they listen to us.