Thursday, February 26, 2009

PUDP...It's All The Same To Me

What the hell is going on with our leaders?!  City Council allegedly couldn’t make their payments to Social Security (yet Mayor Zenaida could pay her brother’s business) for several months.  Her only answer to the ongoing accusations on the matter is to, in her usual arrogant way, state that she has answered the matter already and that the previous City Council was equally irregular in its payments.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that why we fired that crowd?!?!  And didn’t you promise us that you’d be better?  Well, saying they were just as bad doesn’t exactly scream improvement, does it?  The more things change....

Speaking of how bad things are at City Hall, where’s our Municipal Audit?  Mr. Auditor General, are you allowing yourself to be compromised by political necessities?  Because I’ll tell you this: you are paid by us and as such you answer to us, and we want our audit -before March 4th.  Hell, if you’re just a little behind, feel free to give us what you’ve got and tell us when the rest will be ready.  You readers remember when Ralph wouldn’t allow any criminal charges against his brother?  This crowd promised to be better.  The more things change….

Connected friends can avoid paying taxes with impunity while businesses that already pay more than their fair share get taxed further to pay for those friends.  Try avoiding your SSB payment for a month and see what happens.  Try owing money for your trade and liquor license and see how long you can stay open.  Try to keep from paying your property tax and see how that goes over with Zenaida & Co.  Try talking Customs down on the duty they want to charge you and see how helpful they are.  Ever made a mistake of a few cents on your GST or Business Tax or been late by a day on either?  But there are those who can do all that and much, much more.  It's just not Archie Lee's turn anymore.  The more things change….

The Labour Ministry wants businesspeople to pay more severance to their employees –three and five times more than they’ve planned for.  Not a bad idea, until you look around you and see how quiet things are with businesses.  Then the government complains about businesses not lowering their prices.  How can they?  What costs have declined for them?  Not taxes, labour, or utility costs, that’s for sure.  You see, the PUP claimed to be all about social justice, then proceeded to help their favoured few shred the economy.  The UDP claim to be all about social justice, and are doing everything to help their favoured few take what’s left.  The more things change….

The current Prime Minister says that “corruption has been eliminated at the topmost level of government,” meaning him personally, one assumes –or maybe the Governor General.  Who the hell cares that one athlete is clean when the whole rest of the team is on steroids?  Same argument goes for any member of PUP who sanctioned what happened by keeping silent while it was happening.  Guilt by association, it’s all the rage around here.  The more things change….

Look guys, economic patriotism does not mean killing the cow for a steak dinner tonight then wondering why you can’t have milk with your cereal tomorrow.  Economic patriotism means keeping your local businesses in business and able to do business without the constant fear of starvation through taxation.  Economic patriotism actually means embracing certain free market principles so that consumers have a choice and local businesses have to learn to compete and work toward exporting their products in order to thrive –protectionism kills innovation and quality, did you know that?  Have some pasta and think about that.  Hell, economic patriotism even means creating a climate that allows shoppers to be able to afford to shop in their own country -but remember, do it without starving businesses to make it happen.

You know, you can at least try to pretend you love your country.  So far you aren’t fooling anyone into thinking that you want to win the job again in 2013.  Did you notice that there’s a global crisis on?  Has anyone told you it’s now hitting home and that your actions determine how Belize comes out of it?  Trust them, they’re not the ones telling lies.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Of Cliffs and Cane

I’m only a relatively uninformed bystander watching what increasingly appears to be the economic version of a headlong stampede toward the cliff’s edge. 

Let the above statement serve as my disclaimer. I am hereby freely acknowledging that I know nada about sugar cane and the cultivation thereof -I don't say 'growth' because I think that word applies (or should apply) more accurately to the industry currently under vigorous discussion. So, unlike many people out there, this is me not pretending to know what I don’t know. 

However, I am curious about how we turn back from this looming disaster when the main beneficiaries seem ever more cemented in their position.  When I listen to Mr Magana, for example, I hear the sound of engines revving instead of tires screeching.  No brakes, no u-turns up to now, and the cliff's edge is ever closer.

In a way, I guess standing on the sidelines may afford me a better view of what is going on, though there are also elements one misses by seeing the whole forest and not individual trees.  What I do know is this: we have an endangered industry, and this lee argument puts it that much closer to extinction.

I'd like to know a few things about the way forward, and for ease of reference I've listed them below, carefully numbered and not at all indexed by importance, chronology or alphabet:
  1. Is the Core Sampler truly the root of all evil? I feel the need to capitalize the name, because this seemingly offensive piece of equipment appears to have taken on a life of its own, and may yet go the way of Gapi's t-shirt, that is, be burnt in effigy. Seriously though, doesn't this thing have some use once we cure it of its alleged propensity to tell nasty little fibs on innocent sugarcane? Like, say, data collection?
  2. If Nemencio Acosta is to be fired, how will this help the industry? What was his offense? Who should replace him, and why that person? Who the heck is Nemencio Acosta, and why'd his mom call him that? Must've caught hell in school, true? Schoolyard bullies can be so cruel... Will his replacement have a better name? I fancy something like...Alvaro, or Placido maybe.
  3. Is this business of pushing quality over quantity for cane production a 'red' herring? I mean, just because the EU, numerous trading partners, Tate & Lyle, dozens of Belizean experts, and both the last government and this one say that failure to improve quality will mean the end of the industry, that doesn't make it true, does it? Because everybody knows the EU consists of a bunch of pranksters who never really mean what they say. They send out these goofy memos between rounds of Pin the Tail on the Ex-colony, that sort of thing.
  4. Okay, the last one was a low blow. I'm sure that Mr Magana and his brethren are aware that they have to change their ways -I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt in generous helpings, but wasn't that where the Fairtrade money was to have come in useful? What's the story behind Fairtrade anyway? Hey, they make pretty good chocolate though; you can get some at, they aren't sponsoring the blog, but if you could forward this to them, maybe...
  5. If the core sampler is sent on its merry way, and if the farmers concede that improving quality is the way forward, and if Fairtrade, or the EU, or my Fairy Godmother (who really is too old to be wearing tutus...but I digress) make funds available for this quality improvement business (you're counting the ifs, I hope), then what is the acceptable measure and compensation for quality that will reward the farmer who improves his crop?  I mean, there's gotta be something that won't send the guys back to the dump for more old tires, right?
I'll leave it there for now, as I, like the rest of non-agricultural Belize, continue to watch the endless sequels of this saga. I am, I will tell you, perched on the edge of my ratty old recliner each night, watching that cliff get closer...and closer...

Monday, February 2, 2009

Kamikaze Cane Farmers

Someone died today. Whatever the circumstances of his death, he didn't have to die. Today, though it would be easy to find the comedic elements in the tragedy, to find them I'd have to go past the fury that's blocking my vision. Why fury? Because someone died today, and his death was unnecessary.

For the benefit of strangers to my country and those who have logged on from their mid-jungle gopher holes, let me explain briefly that sugar cane and politics have always been a combustible mix in Belize. You see, our politicians have neither strength of will nor courage of conviction, and it takes a great deal of both to take on the cane farmers.

In some respects, today's clash has been coming for decades. In another way, it has been coming for about three years. Either way, what you have is an ailing industry producing substandard product and being propped up and indulged by successive governments.  Sounds sensible, doesn't it?  No, I didn't think so either.

Now, the core sampler in question is a tool for measuring quality. Higher quality logically means more sugar per ton of cane delivered. In a world where commodity prices aren’t the best, and quotas are disappearing, it should go without saying that Belize’s survival interest lies in producing the best possible product, to get the best possible prices.

Instead the cane farmers are willing to fight to the death for the right to kill their industry. And at the cost of one life today, they won one more battle for their self-destruction. Tonight the core sampler is unplugged, and “same-old, same-old” triumphs yet again.

Mr. Politician, as a taxpayer, I feel I have the right to tell you this: if these guys want to destroy the industry, don’t help them do it by indulging them for the sake of votes.  Because when the sugar industry dies –is murdered– you’re going to expect me to pay for the farmers to avoid starvation.  And I won’t have it!

In other words, don’t expect me to donate the fuel for the cane farmers’ kamikaze flights.