Wednesday, September 24, 2008

...The Harder We Fall

Well, the 2008 Corruption Perception Index is out, and the big news is…we dropped again! In just three years, our fall from grace has taken us from 66 to 99 to 109 in the number rankings. The optimists amongst us would point out that whereas we slid 33 points in 2007, at least we only slid 10 points this year. Well hurray for us then, Mr Optimist. I’d go for a drink to celebrate, but my celebratory liquor budget is pretty tight, and besides, I’m a little nervous that if I go out I might get jacked.

Clearly, Belize’s image out there could use a generous coating of the strongest deodorant. It really isn’t fair to blame Transparency International or the other star of the September Celebrations, Ross Kemp, for this. If your neighbor comes over to visit and then tells everyone about your filthy house, the worst you can say about her is that she’s a gossip, right? So what do we do about all this gossip? How do we clean our house so that our rankings climb back up the scale for next year?

I’d start by suggesting that this government set the pace for shutting down the negative buzz by aggressively taking matters in hand. Our current leaders should loudly and visibly shut down cronyism and arrest anyone attempting to offer bribes. Start by setting a few examples and everybody else will fall into line in a hurry. Insist that audits be carried out in a timely manner for both Central Government and the municipal authorities, and act on any irregularities that these audits uncover. ACB issued a release insisting on the municipal audits –I look forward to the results, as well as the results of the results, you get what I’m saying?

Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition could even make this into a bipartisan effort by endorsing whatever actions GOB takes, and let me push things here by using this phrase: “in a mature fashion.” The kind of things I’d love to see the Opposition support include the arrest of anyone trying to bribe a government official, including police officers. Everybody’d have to support the arrest of those accepting the bribes too, or else it just wouldn’t be fair.

Just check out the top five countries on the CPI. The thing I think they have in common is that they attempt to give their citizens a lifestyle that neither forces nor persuades them into corruption, backed up by a set of laws that really motivate people to stay on the straight and narrow path. And between you and me, I don’t think a Singapore prison is nearly as nice as Kolbe. We should learn from this.

Maybe it’d be easier just to bribe Transparency International.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Solution to Our Crime Problem

Tonight the country of Belize was treated to an episode of Ross Kemp on Gangs filmed mainly in Belize City. Objectively speaking, the show was a mixture of truth and self-serving exaggeration, with a colorful overlay of sensationalistic crap. This is to be expected, but let’s not lose the main point, which is the fact that we really do have a gang problem. We also have a weapons problem, an explosives problem, a drug problem, a crime problem, and a full assortment of sexual problems. Of late, you can even add the problem of constantly disappearing intransit ‘pharmaceuticals’ to this ever-growing list.

Fear not however, this evening’s news reminded us that the authorities are vigorously attacking the [insert name here] situation. They have pulled together all the necessary resources, asserted themselves and…held a press conference! Yes, that’s right, the new head-on method for attacking these problems is to have press conferences wherein senior law enforcement officials explain what they are doing and, uh, why they can’t quite reach that elusive goal of solving The Problem of the Day.

Let’s be fair though, the authorities can't solve all these problems by themselves, can they? If they could, then the problems would hardly be worth the price of Ross Kemp’s plane ticket. These problems won’t be solved until we can all pull together as a community and put up a unified front against crime. Bringing us together will, I realize, require truly strong, moral and upstanding leadership.

We need the kind of credible, trustworthy, nonpolitical leadership we’ve been conditioned to expect from our church leaders. That's why I’m proud to see the Council of Churches speaking up. They even issued a press release recently. In this release, they decried, in the strongest possible terms, the government’s plan to...have the Independence Day parade on, of all days, Independence Day! Yes, this sort of infringement on our collective morals had to be roundly condemned lest it damn our souls for all eternity.

Now, I’m sure that having achieved victory in this major and potentially catastrophic issue, our newly emboldened church leaders will be able to move quickly past it in order to focus on the lesser issues of murder, robbery and general mayhem ensuing in our streets.

I look forward to their press conference.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Requiem for a Bygone Era

On Saturday 6th September, Carnival Day, Belize was forced to bid farewell to the peaceful stage of her development. Whereas before we were treated to occasional scenes of gratuitous violence in between updates of Zenaida's latest hijinks, and whereas we have heard of grenades on the street before, this was an entirely new level of horror.

The fact that someone thought it a good idea to toss a grenade into crowds of parents and children gathered to watch a parade speaks to the kind of monster our culture has unknowingly nurtured. And sadly, our forces are ill-equipped to deal with this new order of battle. After all, we did not realize these possibilities, did we?

Before Carnival Day and what might have been, we still retained a small portion of the innocence we once had in abundance. We still had a little faith left. But to hear our leaders and security forces speak of doing bomb sweeps prior to an event, to hear them mention what will have to be done for parade security, leaves a sadness, a kind of weariness, as we mourn for what did die on Saturday.

We all used to be able to brag about how safe Belize was, how our leaders could travel without bodyguards, how we didn't have the problems of other nations. Well, now we do.

So what next?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Salute to the 210th Tenth

Four days from today we’ll be celebrating the 210th Anniversary of the Battle of St George’s Caye. I’ll be celebrating it even if you aren’t, because to me it’s not a red or a blue holiday; it’s not a black or white holiday. In my humble opinion, labeling it as some sort of tacit endorsement of colonialism and slavery is narrow-minded in the extreme.

To deny that the battle happened because those who fought didn’t meet certain criteria and because you hate the British who are long gone is, in a word, pathetic. Somebody said in the papers the other day that it’s bogus because it was a white man’s fight. I’d like to personally call that writer a racist, brain-damaged idiot. The proper way to look at it is thus, if nothing happened then, would we be speaking English now? For sure there would be no Guatemalan dispute because we’d already have Guatemalan passports. Before you decide that’s a good idea, let me point out that generally speaking the Latinos don’t have the best record for liking us ‘people of colour.’

A few more than two hundred and ten years ago (I’m ashamed to admit I don’t remember exactly when) a public meeting was held where those present discussed and voted on whether to remain in this settlement and fight to keep it or abandon it to the Spaniards. The vote to stay was the winner because of some black folk named Flowers who came in to Belize Town from Flowers Bank for the meeting and voted to stay –their vote put it over the top. I hope that Flowers’ descendants of today are aware and proud of their ancestors’ active role in Belizean history.

As a direct result of that vote, when the Spaniards anchored their ships off our shores a year or two later we were ready, and we repelled them. There is no shame in having had a British warship there to help, just as there is no shame in the notion that there was no wholesale slaughter of our people. The former was their duty and the latter should be our pride. The British warship did not and could not repel the Spaniards on its own, nor does the fact that the two opponents did not line off against each other across a battlefield, point muskets and shoot at each other mean that nothing happened.

The thing is, you have people here who are traitors to Belize even as they wrap themselves in our flag. They don’t want us to have pride in our heritage because that would make us proud and strong. National pride gives us self-pride, a sense of identity, and that’s dangerous to people who want to enslave our minds and keep us down. So next time you hear someone sounding off like that brain-damaged racist, please point out to him/her that they are sounding off in English, which seems to underscore the silliness of their denial. They should be ashamed to call themselves Belizeans.