10 December 2016, by the Executive Council of the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
For more than a decade the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) has been advocating for better governance, accountability in public office, more e-government platforms and public sector reforms as key enablers for private sector growth. In late July of 2016 following a string of events that exposed deep rooted corruption in the government, the BCCI’s Executive Council unanimously decided to make the fight against corruption its most urgent priority.
It made accession to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) one of its primary goals. Letters were sent to the prime minister, to leaders of the other political parties, and to over 50 civil society organisations to gather support for a movement that would ultimately lead to the government signing documents to accede to the UNCAC by 9 December 2016 – International Anti-Corruption Day.
The BCCI met with the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) and the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA). Mose Hyde from KREM Radio assisted as our media partner and members of the BCCI Executive also made public appearances on several radio and television shows calling for transparency in government. Through the support of the UNDP representative to Belize, BCCI also held a mixer with its membership on the subject, with guest speaker Mr Gerardo Noto of the new Cluster on Governance and Peace Building at the UNDP Regional Hub for Latin America and the Caribbean.
The 2016 Belize Market Place Expo (a BCCI annual signature event) was used as a platform to officially launch the BCCI’s public Anti-Corruption Campaign. ‘Break the Corruption Chain’ bumper stickers were circulated, the BCCI displayed a colourful map of the world highlighting how few countries have failed to join the Convention and citizens were encouraged to sign a petition to the government to demand accession to the UNCAC. The fear of victimisation was palpable, but despite this over 500 people mustered the courage to sign the petition.
The turning point in galvanising public support for the anti-corruption campaign and especially for the UNCAC came from the position adopted by the BNTU following failed talks over delays to their committed salary adjustment. There was a groundswell of popular support due to a number of events: the Auditor General’s report on the Passport, Visa, and Nationality Department that pointed to apparent deep rooted corruption; and the beheading of Pastor Lucas also triggered public outcry at the ease with which the accused murderer had developed direct access to the highest echelons of the National Security Ministry.
The BNTU membership took industrial action on a platform that included good governance demands:
- Signing a commencement order to install a 13th senator
- Accession to the UNCAC
- Reconstitution and recommissioning of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC)
- Establishment of the Integrity Commission
Prior to these events, on 31 August 2016, the prime minister had met the BCCI and committed to most of these demands, but had refused to sign the commencement order for the 13th senator. Following the BNTU strike, however, he agreed to sign the commencement order and accelerated the timelines on the other governance measures, including setting concrete dates.
It was on the suggestion of the government/BCCI working group that the prime minister set the symbolically important date of 9 December – International Anti-Corruption Day – to commit to the UNCAC, and the working group has since been involved in preparing a roadmap of events leading up to accession.
It is yet to be seen whether the tumultuous events of September and October 2016 will be remembered in Belize as the turning point in its fight against corruption, but the public is expectant and hopeful that the political will to combat, prevent, and eradicate corruption will be present in every successive government.
The next step is for civil society groups and institutions to come together to champion the anti-corruption campaign on an ongoing basis, including demanding full and fair enforcement of the laws that are strengthened or introduced to combat corruption. This important work is for the benefit of all Belizeans now and for generations to come.
On 9 December 2016, the Government of Belize announced it had completed the steps required in order to deposit its instrument of ratification with the United Nations Treaty Office.
- BCCI produced a business manifesto that identified these actions as fundamental for sustainable growth and development.