By Jamil Matar
There is a common perception that the public service is inherently inefficient compared to the private sector. Some people regard public servants as personifications of bureaucracy and snootiness. Well, in this opening snippet I want to share a personal experience that puts this widely held representation to question. On Monday, July 20, my daughter and I decided that, although we cannot travel anywhere outside our country for at least another year, it was a good time to renew our expired passports. We were directed to a building on the Phillip Goldson Highway adjacent to the Belize Flour Mill. With heavy traffic heading out of the city, we anxiously drew up to the new structure on the right side of the Northern Highway, where we got parking assistance from a uniformed security guard.
The passport office was very spacious, with socially distanced benches, busy but in a respectably quiet and approachable atmosphere, hand sanitizers at every turn. The two persons accepting the applications were efficient and experienced. Long story short, we were out of there in 30 minutes flat, applications successfully processed and fees paid. So thankful!
Next bird to kill with the same stone was a visit to Brodie’s, to stack up on my meds, in case they locked down the entire OW District, after a number of border jumpers tested positive the previous day. Our last scheduled errand for the day was a wasted, aggravated appointment at an office on Daly Street. I do not wish to mention the name of the business in fairness to the proprietor, who surely may not know about the haughty attitude of the supervisor at customer service. Suffice to say that after we departed their premises, we got much better service and a better product at a similar enterprise merely five minutes away. But enough of my pointless platitudes, so let me move on to politics.
It stunned me to listen to the fact that the major worry of the Leader of the Opposition last Friday, 24 July, after the House meeting was Brad’s Boledo contract, rather than on the 36 employees whom his “Jefe” terminated from the Port via text message just two days prior. I have already discussed in a previous article that our amended labor ordinance allows ‘Seedy’ investors to ride roughshod over Belizean workers. An employee can be terminated at a whim, the employer not having to assign any reason for doing so, no matter his/her length of service or his/her performance. Once a worker does not constantly laud the employer’s genius, munificence, and efficacy, you gone! It was on the topic of labor reform I wanted to hear; a public pledge to improve the injudicious 2011 Labor Amendment Act to better protect workers in the future. Instead, there was a rant and rail about Boledo. And even on that issue, the Opposition Leader got the numbers wrong, no pun intended.
He claims that the ten-year gaming contract was worth $500 million in revenues to Brads. I do not agree with that calculous. Let us do a quick analysis. $500 million in ten years would translate to $50 million each year, which implies that Belizeans are spending almost $1,000,000 each week on Boledo. I do not hold that there are so many high rollers within our 130,000 gainfully employed Belizeans, and, every gambler knows that even if you purchased all the numbers in the book, you will still lose. As to the LOO’s burning issue of the UDP entering contracts beyond the life of its current administration, which political Party introduced this practice? We can all remember Ralph’s original 30-year, $3,000,000,000 super bond. Then there is the recent OWTC contract—a 13-year, $10,000/month open-ended procurement to maintain the streets in OWT. Next in line is the smelly 30-year “full” Airport concession granted to relatives of a previous Prime Minister. The frosting on the cake came in the form of our Registries—a 20-year cash bonanza for the “Jefe”.
To wit, I offer you this closing observation. I have been seeing many recent ads on Facebook flaunting the high acquisition price ($650 million, the ads allege) which the Barrow Administration paid to the Ashcroft Alliance for the nationalization of BTL. Even if they are right, I maintain that our treasury will recover that money handily over a few years. What these ads actually are, in effect, seeds, which suggest that the UDP paid too much for the local telecommunications company, and if they win, God forbid, it would sound reasonable to argue that they were forced to sell back Ashcroft, in the first instance, 49% of BTL shares to “balance” the economy. Then after some time, piece by piece, the PUP “Jefe” would reacquire his entire prized cow. No personal animus here, but I can confidently prophesize that we will get properly soaked if the PUP is returned to office in November with the same 1998 crowd. Our country will have to endure many years of frenzied and unbridled pillaging. Two banks, two telecommunication companies, and two ports, in one man’s hands. Imagine the possibilities!
By Jamil Matar