Monday, April 28, 2008

Port Security for Dummies

The wall comes tumbling down…well, no, not totally. Let me explain for the benefit of those who have been living in a cave for the past few days. I don’t think tourists realize that the simple act of shopping outside the designated port can be hazardous, but fortunately FSTV has once again stepped up to protect their interest –I mean the tourists’ interests, of course. Once the court insisted that FSTV must ‘Bruk Down DI Wall,’ FSTV also decided to ‘Bruk Down DI Boardwalk.’ This is good news for local ISPS experts, because we knew that the Bad People would only have come from either Brown Sugar or Michael Colin’s ends of the boardwalk.

We know that the Bad People could never get away with landing a boat on a crowded day nor could they have strolled through the landside entrance to FSTV disguised as innocent tourists. We also know that the Really Bad People would never rent a helicopter and approach by air. We totally understand that the only potential danger points that FSTV security can’t guard effectively are the two ends of the boardwalk. Fortunately, the Bad People are lazy and not at all creative, so these are the only ways they would try to get into the ‘designated port’ to harm those poor, unwitting tourists, and therefore their plans have been foiled once more.

We onlookers are relieved to know that folks from FSTV and the Port Authority are being so diligent about port security, and if I may, I’d like to relay a few of our suggestions to keep that ISPS code intact and therefore maintain our status as a secure cruise port so the ships don’t stop coming:

1. Taxi drivers taking people on tour should be encouraged to drive a little faster or stay out of the way of regular traffic flow. Slow taxis can make an inviting target, and Homeland Security would frown on a minivan-load of American citizens suffering from whiplash inflicted by a malicious rear-end collision.

2. Hair braiders should be asked to quietly warn people before they begin that Caucasians with braided hair tend to look ridiculous. We would hate for one of them to look in a mirror after the fact and be terrified by their own reflection, and we suspect that the cruise industry may begin to regard these procedures as random acts of terrorism after enough people have been reduced to cringing masses of well-braided fear.

3. Shops inside FSTV ought to be carefully vetted for tacky yet overpriced souvenirs. Excessive exposure to cheap t-shirts and flimsy imported souvenirs with ‘Belize’ painted on them could be interpreted as a threat to tourism.

4. Another potential problem you might have overlooked: fish. Now, we don’t imagine that there are too many fish hanging around in the water near FSTV, but don’t underestimate their sneakiness…and keep in mind that they travel in gangs, which they call ‘schools.’ Clever, huh? No one can predict what fish will get up to while they hide underwater and swim around the tenders unseen and unheard, probably looking for weak spots.

Now, there are probably many other things we haven’t yet thought of, but since it’s everyone’s duty to protect cruise tourism, we thought it best to speak up. We’ve held back our thoughts for a long time, but once you guys broke through the boardwalk your actions demonstrated your serious dedication to keeping the tourists safe from all harm while they’re visiting. We think that’s commendable and we do hope that our suggestions are helpful.

Oh yes, and watch out for dive-bombing pigeons!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Whither ACB?

Three or four years ago (their website doesn’t say exactly when) a group of Belizean professionals, enraged by the Social Security scandal, decided to take on the PUP government then in power. Believers and cynics alike watched closely as the Association of Concerned Belizeans attacked with vigour, energy, creativity and a great deal of courage. The ACB, as we all came to know them, became a fairly regular discussion topic for the water cooler crowd.

The cynics claimed the ACB was merely a UDP tool, a claim apparently borne out by the forums held in the early days of their existence, which almost exclusively hosted UDP speakers. The believers, defending the ACB, insisted that labeling them UDP was merely a PUP political tactic, and of course all the speakers had to be UDP since the PUP invitees universally refused to attend. That, they said, was the political equivalent of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Regardless of which side they were on, fair-minded observers had to admire ACB’s dedication, though the cynics clung stubbornly to their labels. However, their last, most epic battle involved taking the government to court over the notorious UHS guarantee, an extremely popular move with the freshly enraged public. Many cynics jumped to the believers’ side of the ACB fence, and public opinion swung decisively against the Musa government.

That court battle is not yet won, as far as we know, but in the meantime, an astounding change of government has taken place and subsequent events, some UHS-related, have dimmed the spotlight that originally shone on that dispute. Immediately after the change the pundits and the public alike began to debate whether the ACB will display similar tenacity in pursuing the actions of the new government if and when the need arises.

According to their website,, we can count on the ACB for exactly that: ‘ACB is primarily established to be a watchdog group on government activities and policies, we also question government's accountability and transparency at any time we feel necessary. Our purpose is to take part in the political process of our nation and to function as a non-partisan organization. We are political without being politicians, everyday our association grows in number and support, based on that philosophy.’

However, as the new government moves its chessmen into place on various boards and representations, we are forced to wonder if the cynics were right. Several of the ACB’s most prominent members have been appointed to key positions, once again dividing the believers and the cynics. The believers contend that these appointments give the ACB the chance to ‘put their money where their mouths were.’ The cynics retort that the view changes when you’re looking from the inside out. Their example is the former ACB President and founder turned UDP campaign manager who now appears to have become everything he once condemned.

The bottom line question we need the ACB to answer is: what is left of their non-partisan organization to question the government’s actions? After all, the change of government and the power it holds combined with the narrow-mindedly partisan habits of Belizean politicians suggests certain predictable actions and therefore requires continued strong vigilance.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Clear the Laws?

I hate to say it. I mean, who wants to seem judgmental? But lately I’ve been feeling like we ought to have a class on leadership that’s mandatory for all the guys who think they can run our country. You might want to argue with me, but here we are again with a minister who, right though he might be in his aims, is going about things the wrong way. I am, of course, referring to one Hon. Castro, who decided to ‘Clear the Land’ without following the proper legal procedures. Check out the story at or at

Minister Castro, no matter how well-intentioned your actions, you are in the business of making and changing laws, not to mention that by your actions you should be encouraging adherence to them. Instead, you proceed to break them to pieces, thereby becoming exactly the kind of person you were elected to replace. Yes, “an EIA sounds like a big word” but we’ve all heard that ‘word’ very often in the last few years. It’s difficult to imagine that in today’s Belize a project costing in excess of $4.5 million didn’t need some kind of clearance. You could have asked.

On Channel 5 tonight, you said “…I know that this would have had to come but if I had gone through all the different processes, it would have been, we would not be here. We would still be talking up to next year, next three, four, five years, we’d still be talking. We are not doing nothing bad in the sense that we are not disturbing the ecosystem. I am environmentally friendly.

Leadership 101, Lesson 1: guess what, mi bredda, if the laws are that cumbersome, and I agree they are, you’re in the perfect position to change them. Make the procedures more efficient while still protecting the environment! You see, I keep saying it, maybe you are doing a good thing for your people here, but you broke the law to do it. This is tantamount to a vigilante killing a known criminal –it might seem like the right thing, but it’s against the law. Hopefully you haven’t killed the environment in the process.

Now that the horse is out of the barn door, and you and the authorities are working to put it back with minimal repercussions, hopefully you’ve learned from this experience. Your assignment then, is as follows: remind your colleagues as often as necessary that the NGOs and ordinary voters are watching, and that we expect better from this government than the treatment we got the last time around. Do the right thing each and every time, no exceptions, no excuses.

Oh, and by the way, Mister Castro, please change your license plates to the legal kind.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

License to Govern

A friend of mine saw something yesterday that made her angry, unreasonably so, I thought at first. She saw a government vehicle with red license plates, front and back, bearing the word ‘MINISTER’ in white letters. “It’s only a small law, I know, but then lawbreaking usually starts with the small ones” she observed. For those of you unfamiliar with these things, Belize government vehicles should have blue ‘B’ plates with numbers on them, not words. Those of you familiar with party politics here will understand why lesser men of the current government would have a problem with blue plates, though I shouldn’t have thought the numbers would be offensive.

Why, I asked myself, was my friend so upset? Against the backdrop of $40 million being given to someone who cares not one jot for the welfare of Belize and her people, why would a license plate costing less than $100 in taxpayer funds matter?

Of course, there’s the practical consideration that if twenty or so of these vehicles are distributed throughout the country, and one of them is in an accident or used in the commission of a crime, the usual method of identification is no longer viable for that vehicle.

But that’s not what had my friend so upset. Even she might not understand the basis for her fury, but I think it’s this: if you are a true leader and interested in the welfare of your people, if you have within you the kind of humility seen in the greatest of world leaders, you require no labels to be recognized in your greatness. Conversely, if you do require labels, your insistence on them indicates an inability to demonstrate the sort of leadership this country requires in order to survive its upcoming trials. It shows weakness of purpose. I think my friend was reacting from a subconscious fear that this kind of trivial thinking leads us down a dangerous road.

Here’s the deal MINISTERS, we need you to pay attention to what matters. Get our $40 million back (and all the other millions), put the thieves in jail, stop the killings, deal with the AIDS and drug epidemics, lock the pedophiles away from our children, make the tax evaders pay, and reduce our cost of living. The time you spend being preoccupied with the colour of a license plate and the newness of the vehicle it’s posted on distracts you from all of that. You want my respect? Make my life and lives of the rest of my countrymen better, and try your damndest to stick to the laws of Belize while you’re at it. That’s the only way to show me that you’re better than the last bunch.

In the meantime, you want to improve the appearance of your nice, new, shiny vehicles? Put Belize flags on them. These might serve as reminders to you of who paid for them.