Sunday, July 24, 2011

Majority Ownership of Public Utilities...and of Persons

With the tabling of the Ninth Amendment Bill, our Prime Minister has produced his most egregious piece of legislation to date. While this amendment is ostensibly to bring ownership of our public utilities under Government's protective arm for good and all, it is for one thing deliberately vague in its definition of public utilities. So while we certainly are discussing BTL, BEL and BWS, we may very easily also be discussing Smart, or Belcogen, or Consolidated Water (the privately owned water company on Ambergris Caye), or BNE, or any number of other potential targets. To make it happen just pass legislation declaring the target entity to be a public utility, and then...why, thank you, Mr. Investor, a majority share of your company is just what the doctor ordered. A Constitutional amendment excusing the country from paying its displaced investors for their lost assets is also no longer out of reach. These possibilities will of course only excite the passions of a small number of people, being those companies lucrative enough to become likely targets, and maybe the Chamber of Commerce, which seems of late to have emerged as the champion of investor causes. The media, and especially the all-powerful, also-hungry Krem, will have no difficuly getting behind this piece of legislation with gusto. Notable exceptions will be Channel 5, owned by Mr. Ashcroft, which has already sounded a warning in its Friday newscast, and Love FM, which seems almost deliberately oblivious of what could be (and is) happening. And it is almost certain that the Bar Association, though Mr. Barrow may accuse it of being almost totally PUP, will bow to the will of its (minority?) UDP members and either remain silent or speak in a hoarse whisper.

What most people will miss, because the media will choose not to see it, is that the legislation, in its heavy-handed way of nailing the door shut against marauding foreign investors, has left a gaping hole (and this is no doubt deliberate) that allows this administration to become as powerful as any dictatorship that ever swallowed a democratic country whole. In stating that "...a law passed by the National Assembly to alter any of the provisions of this Constitution...shall not be open to challenge in any court of law on any ground whatsoever," the legislation removes the courts from the equation. What this means is, quite simply, that any amendment can be introduced and passed by the current supermajority in the House, and it cannot be challenged in the courts. So the passing of such amendments will become pro-forma, and we'll lose whatever freedoms we thought we had.

Yes, the first thing that should then come to your mind is the much-dreaded Preventative Detention legislation, which it is important to note that Mr. Barrow has only put 'in the cooler' and not withdrawn on this occasion. Once the Ninth Amendment is passed, the Eighth can go through without court challenge and then suspension of habeas corpus is complete. At that point, an admistration as vicious and paranoid as this one has shown itself to be will have a nuclear weapon of sorts at its disposal for use against its enemies on a whim. It is no longer an exaggeration then to say that the more energetic citizens' organizations such as Belizeans for Justice, COLA, the lately emerged BelizeCan, or Audrey Matura of Oceana will then either be forced to go silent or otherwise begin to operate under constant threat as the Chinese dissidents do.

Preventative Detention aside, Amendment 9 gives the kind of unlimited power that our Constitution's authors sought to prevent. Yes, with the passage of this amendment, Mr. Barrow also can, and most likely will, abolish, or at least shorten, the 90-day discussion period for such amendments, thereby eliminating any chance opponents would have had to gain traction against whatever measure he proposes. He can also --and for a man who has expended an unprecedented amount of time and effort amending the Constitution for control purposes, this is also not outside the realm of possibility-- even go as far as abolishing elections. Not that he needs to, since for all intents and purposes we have no Opposition, but this may even become his stated reason for doing so.

While the conjectures above perhaps could be consigned to the pages of a bestselling conspiracy novel, the fact is that Amendment 9 is a powerful weapon designed to obliterate the protections, rights and privileges that our Constitution grants us all as Belizean citizens. It is also a fact that laws made for one man, Mr. Ashcroft, have been used to damage others since they have been enacted, and on that basis alone there is an unavoidable requirement for broader interpretation of possible applications. One more conjecture to close with: our Prime Minister has openly and often committed to the notion of big government, and our big government is a bloated, hungry monster with a growing appetite voraciously devouring tax revenue. That tax revenue isn't coming in at the rate it should and it may be that the idea is to feed the monster with revenue from monopoly utilities. Before you laugh it off, look up your phone bills to see how much rates have dropped since the 2009 acquisition. Exactly. And will BEL rates drop? That remains to be seen, but you should not count on it. For now, and regarding Amendment 9, the question is, what will YOU do about it?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

'Hating' as Leadership Strategy

Our Prime Minister and his Cabinet are, to use my teenage sister's favorite word, 'haters.' Think about it. If you really pay attention to the news lately, they've shifted focus from 'hating on' Ashcroft alone to attacking just about anybody, and worse than that, pitting everybody against everybody else. For example, the business community is under attack because it dared to question the government; the Bar Association too, and for the same reason, if not the same question. So then Mister Barrow makes the totally absurd comment that most of the Bar Association is PUP, while his bally Mister Finnegan tells the world that the business community wanted preventative detention. Considering that GST recently spent a few days chasing down and locking down non-Chinese and non-Indian business owners for non-payment of taxes, I doubt the businesspeople view preventative detention with any less suspicion than any of the rest of us do, but it's important that the government give the public someone to hate who isn't them. After all, if we really started to pay attention who knows what we'd discover about them, and if they learned nothing else from watching the Musa administration implode, they did learn that it's crucially important to keep everyone divided, and viciously so. Meanwhile they should publicly award a commendation to the Opposition for keeping itself divided and therefore crippled without any effort being necessary on the government's part. Thus endeth that lesson on the value of credibility.

Now, this preventative detention thing is nothing less than dangerous in an atmosphere where the government spends all its time attacking people and indulging vendettas. For example, should we really be this focused on Ashcroft? How many roads could we have built with the legal fees; how many jobs, besides those in the legal profession, have been created? I'm not saying we should have left The Lord alone completely, the man is a crooked sonuvagun after all, but isn't there more important stuff we could be doing? Instead of meaningful things like creating jobs, reducing crime and generally making life better, we're proposing to cement it into the Constitution that the government can, by way of preventative detention, make somebody disappear if they can trump up the barest excuse to haul him in. That can't make the Bar, the businesspeople, or any thinking person comfortable when you consider that this crowd spends their days coming up with accusations and threats against people who worry them, i.e. people who think for themselves.

The sad fact is, preventative detention will do nothing to reduce crime. What it will do is add water to the seeds of fear and hatred they've already sown. If the government and its Dear Leader truly wanted to tackle crime, they would strengthen the police force, hire more capable officers who would be incentivized to perform as proper custodians of the law, and run the corrupt cops out of there. Instead of making new laws that terrify everyone but the criminals, they can focus on enforcing all the boring, old-fashioned, yet quite useful laws already on the books. They could stop corruption, starting with the members of the Cabinet -get them arrested for contraband, tender-rigging, extortion and bribe solicitation, and all the other activities they are involved in. I could continue for pages and pages, but will end the list with this one: take all the legal fees Lois is getting and apply them to prosecution costs. Hell, I wouldn't object to having Lois paid, if she were a super-prosecutor and putting the criminals in jail just as aggressively as the government takes companies from unpopular foreigners.

I for one am a little tired of being told what to think, and I wish all the hating would stop, but I know it won't. The fact is, you have a corrupt, incompetent government that forgets why it was voted in to begin with, and they can only keep their power by distracting the masses and by provoking them into ripping each other to shreds. So the hating will continue, and it will distract you from the corruption, because it's their turn to feed at the trough; let nothing disturb them while they gorge.