Rooting out corruption from within and at all levels
is critical for Belize’s national development
When it comes to corruption, it is high time that we the people roar into the ears of all our political leaders: Enough! ¡Basta! No more! Nada mas! The people are sick and tired of corruption from one to the other cycle of PUP and UDP government administrations, while there seems every effort to bypass the laws to prevent the perpetrators from being held accountable.
In various elections since Belize’s independence, independent voters like myself who are not aligned with any political party, have voted interchangeably for UDP, PUP, VIP or no P, depending on their assessment of the issues, the performance of the ruling administration and comparative quality of leadership. The swing in voting pattern through each election has usually been a reaction against the abuse of power, scandals and corruption, cronyism, arrogance, lack of accountability and transparency, lack of genuine consultation and blatant disrespect for the public, which have surfaced in successive PUP and UDP administrations.
From one election period through another, the Belizean people have been searching for a government that they can trust to rigorously promote their general welfare and protect their rights; to provide effective and efficient public services, social order and security; to ensure strong systems of justice; and, to provide economic opportunities that derive wide benefits to the society. One would have thought that by this time every representative and administration would buckle down and “get the sense”. The people deserve better; they want no more corruption.
Both major political parties have been entrusted by the will of the people to govern with principles of civility and integrity. In many ways, however, they have failed to implement critical reforms to ensure stronger systems of accountability and transparency. Why? Most often, the ruling class who are the main beneficiaries of a corrupt system are those who maintain the status quo and oppose reforms.
Without a strong structure, elected or appointed individuals who are prone to greed and deceit, abuse their power and utilize public resources to enrich or give an unfair advantage to their family or friends. Many succumb to corrupt behavior when the benefits are large, chances of getting caught are small, and penalties when caught are light. The systemic corruption is often facilitated by weak leadership in public sector management and compliant public officers in some sectors. These need to be strengthened.
Even after the nation has seen, and the citizens are paying for the recovery from, one of the worst scandalous periods of corruption that have crippled the national economy and jeopardized the welfare of the people, there has been that sinking national feeling of disappointment as more incidence of corruption emerge. More than ever before Belizeans are demanding much needed sweeping governance reforms to prevent corruption at all levels – within the governance structure, policies and practices; within political parties; and within self. How do we move forward?
First, this administration in collaboration with all political parties and, in consultation with the people, must articulate and enact strong governance reform measures aimed at eliminating corruption. This includes strengthening legislations and policies for preventing and dealing with infractions. The people also must hold each candidate, each area representative and each Minister to high standards of accountability and transparency. Each representative must meet, report and genuinely consult with his or constituency at least once a year, rather than waiting until the end of the term.
Political parties must also work assiduously to strengthen systems of integrity and accountability within their own parties. If they are truly committed to national development, rather than party first, they must ensure that their team is made of persons who genuinely have the nation’s interest at heart. As a young nation, Belize needs high quality leadership not only in professional experience and education but also of integrity and character. Each political party must ensure that it draws the best possible team of leaders who could intelligently and wisely address pressing development issues of the nation.
Thirdly, the members of each political party must also hold their leaders accountable. Many Belizeans still maintain an unquestionable loyalty to the political party of their great grandparents, their grandparents and their parents. One must be careful, however, that such loyalty does not cause one to bury his or her head to the glaring weaknesses within his or her party. Blind loyalty could stifle genuine dialog and collaboration to address issues of national concern. Even when there is deep corruption, many fail to call their leaders to task, thus further weakening the structures and hurting the nation. It is the duty of the each party member to ensure that his or her party strongly take to all necessary actions to wipe out corruption. Finger pointing and defensive chatter while not also tackling corrupt behavior within each party, will not nurture the necessary values and actions needed for national governance.
At the same time, strengthened governance and political party structures and systems are not enough. The deepening collapse in moral values and integrity of society is also reflected through each leader. Those who lack integrity, and are greedy and unscrupulous, will always find ways to undermine the system. Just as Belize’s security apparatus is swift to discriminately target the poor and marginalized by mere suspicion for petty crimes, so must it also be fair and efficient in seeking justice for heinous crimes against the state.
Corruption from within an individual starts out as greed, the self-centered and often insatiable desire for more pleasure and possessions in order to bolster the ego with power, status and prestige. The greed is fueled by a culture of materialism. No matter how much pleasure is derived from the material or sensual enjoyment those obsessed by greed always crave more.
Many who live their lives focused on having excess material possessions for self, tend to worry more because the more attached they are to what they have, the more anxious they are about what they have to lose. Likewise, the more they have, the more they want. It is in this insatiable obsession for personal gratification and sensual desires, that the mind can be blinded to the destructive impact of its actions on others; it becomes increasingly selfish and devoid of clarity and integrity to make wise decisions. Such greed for material and sensual desires can exercise a tight grip on the mind. Therein lies the seed of corruption. It germinates within the individual and spreads from him or her to the community and the nation. The loss of connection with one’s essence is also manifested in such behaviors as arrogance, enmity, anger, hatred, violence and lack of good will towards others.
A political party or an organization, therefore, is not inherently corrupt. Corruption starts from the minds of egotistic, greedy individuals who spread the unscrupulous tentacles of their greed with retrogressive outcomes the people they are expected to serve.
When a leader lacks positive values, his or her purposes, plans and actions can cause tremendous harm to the well-being of others. For those leaders who are self-disciplined and who possess qualities of integrity, wisdom and intelligence, their purposes, words, plans and deeds will most likely result in the greater good of society. Leaders, therefore, must work assiduously towards achieving the highest level of self-discipline, honesty and integrity. It takes integrity and self-discipline to resist bribery, stealing, and other negative behavior that undermines the common good.
Belize’s leaders can learn from many highly developed leaders, that a strong and disciplined mind is not preoccupied with craving for excessive materials and pleasures. Neither is it preoccupied with bolstering a sense of ego with power, status and prestige. The character of great leaders is expressed through the simplicity of living (not attached to excesses and not stealing), abstention from all forms of misconduct, compassion, and steadfast effort for the greater good. Leaders achieve through persistent rootedness to a higher source and purpose, and nurturing one’s self to serve with genuine integrity and respect.
There are timeless practices, such as meditation, that are proven to transform the mind to much higher level of discipline, clarity and deeper insights while nurturing positive values that are increasingly lost in our society.
When leaders of government, schools, churches, business and other agencies, develop deeper awareness and connection to higher principles, he or she is transformed to serve with wisdom, courage, honesty, respect and integrity – age old qualities are desperately needed in Belize. When the mind of each is transformed, all is transformed.
In the end, the commitment to reform the systems of government and to root out the culture of corruption starts within the mind and actions of each leader and expands through each political party to the nation. At the same time, the demand for good governance must also be sustained by the citizens. Our leaders must never get heady to forget that our system is one of the people, by the people and for the people. Yes indeed, all power to the people.
By: Jeremy A. Enriquez