Friday, March 21, 2008

Ministry of Morality? Count Me Out.

There is a famous political adage that states "Equal justice under law." Aside from representing the supposed egalitarian nature of our court system, this phrase also applies directly to the allegations of criminal offenses committed by former Prime Minister Said Musa and Minister Ralph Fonseca in the now famous, $40 million fiasco - a controversy that looms on our horizon like an approaching storm. Most Belizeans would agree that no one, not even the most honorable politicians should receive special treatment or protection for any alleged criminal activity. As elected representatives of the people, they have been entrusted with a profound responsibility to be stewards of the laws and policies that affect a significant portion of our daily lives. Therefore, when this responsibility is compromised and the trust of the people is breached in a way that breaks a law, they should be reprimanded and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Whether or not this is the case in the above mentioned case remains to be seen; only time (and Mr. Barrow) will tell.

But notice, I have mentioned nothing about the personal lives of both Mr. Musa or Mr. Fonseca. It is no secret, especially in the broth of gossip and heresy that characterizes the Belizean society, that these former high-ranking politicians violated their matrimonial vows in an unabashed and shameless manner. Some argue that these gentlemen, on account of their philandering, adultery and unscrupulous marital behavior, should have been removed from government years ago. However, let me put forward a sure-to-be controversial question here: since when did we have a Ministry of Morality in the House? Yes, I know many say that we elect our Ministers to represent us in an upstanding and dare I say, moralistic manner. As one person I know said, "Belizeans are good people. And we should have good people representing us." I agree. Belizeans ARE indeed good people. But that particular argument falters miserably in the light of my introduction, that political official should be treated in a way that grants them special privileges that puts them on a higher plane than the ordinary citizen. So if we fight to remove Ministers based upon morality, then we will have to fight to remove (using random names) Mr. Smith from his managerial position at BTL, Mrs. Young from being secretary at Social Security, and Mr. and Mrs. X, Y and Z from being teachers, doctors and police officers, all of whom are public officials who serve us. It becomes then, in a twisted, ironical way, that our Ministers ARE indeed representative of a society because they suffer from the very same short-comings that plague everyday individuals.

The main issue for me here is that if we look toward morality as criterion for electability, we will surely run into a dead end. How's this scenario for an example, "I wah vote for Mr. X because he da wah good man." or "Mr. X? Gial me see he with y sweethaat just this weekend, me no wah vote fu he one &%$#!" Personally, I've elected men and women based upon capability and whether I believe they would have a sincere interest of the Belizean people at heart during every decision making process; I have never elected any official to serve as moral guidance or to represent my character. Neither did Americans vote for Clinton (Lewinsky) or Bush (Iraq) for moral reasons. I believe that whether our politicians have children from different wives is inconsequential to their decision making process. The fact that Messrs Musa and Fonseca violated their matrimonial vows is not the reason for the $40 Million fiasco and it is not the reason why Belize is in economic shambles today. If you want to vote based upon morality, you have every right to do so. To me, its the same as voting for a stick painted blue or red in that it plays no role on how their actions affect your life. But I repeat, if they break a law, you must prosecute. If they break a commandment, then we all know who is the judge in that case. As Plato once said of morality, "All men are by nature equal, made all of the same earth by one Workman."

17 comments:

The Voice said...

The moral stick is a hard one to hold. Ask Spitzer, the ex-governor of NY. I am by no means suggesting that the private lives of our public officials be the ONLY measuring stick by which we elect them. No, I am only pointing out a well known fact that all Belizeans know, and wondering that if a man who can't keep an oath to God and his wife, who publicly lives a parallel life, who has been doing this for all Belize to see his entire political life, I'm asking if such a man is completely trustworthy.

We're not perfect. Morevover, we're Latin American and Caribbean... Let's all admit that we're some hot-blooded people! Commonly in society, as you point out, does extra-marital affairs abound. But before I vote for a man or woman, before I give them the responsibility to steward millions on my behalf, I have to wonder, if you'll cheat on your spouse public, what won't you do to me?

If my thinking conflicts with yours, so be it. Each country and region has it's own rules on the morality of public officials. Adultery is not something that should be taken lightly.

Like my mother told me growing up, "A liar is a thief and a thief is a murderer!" Immorality at home will only follow to the Cabinet.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point you put forward there... i think that the personal lives of our politicians is only a big deal because of how close and small a nation we are. Other countries in the world laughed at the US when the Clinton scandal and it did make me think of our own situation here in Belize.

I would have to agree with you on this though because I am not voting for a man that has anything to do with his wife or family and as I write this I recall the other comments being made that if a politician can do this with his/her own family, how much easier would it be to betray the Belizean public... and that gives me reason to pause.

Regardless, there are great men amongst us whose strengths may not be to a "loved" one but rather to have foresight and vision as to how a country should be ran. I really do not need, as you say, a moral compass to be thrown in to this already complex process because i see that opening a can of worms for a very blurred line between state and church and that is a whole other post.

Anonymous said...

i maintain, if they'll screw their word to God and their wife and their families ... why wouldn't they screw people they don't know ... they've repeatedly done it ... haven't read the blog yet plato ... just read the comments ... will repost later after i've read it ... so expect a big one!

creolegial said...

jHmmm...Personal ethics/morality and public service usually clash: there will always be a struggle to be the "poster image" of what a good leader should be because of the inate falacies of human beings. However, when you put yourself up for public office - you make that choice- you are forced to make a conscious effort not to fall victim to "personal whims". It is a difficult task, but "with power comes great responsibility" (now which movie does that come from again?).
Like The Voice, I too wondered at how these ministers could play janus with their wives and then try to lead forthright lives with the public - it just doesn't cut it! What you practise or don't practise at home for that matter, as our mothers would say, you tend to play out in public and that bodes well for any intergrity-based commitment to public service.
Albeit, I must take into consideration Anonymous' comment which stated that there have been leaders who have perhaps done such things, and yet, focused on the running of the country. And, true, we don't need any more spice added to the political brew (If we were to start talking about that now, then, as my mother says, we'd have to expose almost every minister!)
Our politicians will only do what we allow them to do - they can engage in and get away with their sordid flings because we as a society, generally accept such relationships. I'm not saying that all of us do and I do not pretend to know all the circumstances which cause such unions to come about, but, the public officials have grown accustomed to the cultural practises. If we would like for the public officials to seriously strive for honorable service, in all sense of the word, then I think that our society, has to reconsider some of its own practises.

Plato said...

“I,Dean Oliver Barrow do swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to Belize and will uphold the constitution and the law and that I will conscientiously, impartially and to the best of my ability discharge my duties as the Prime Minister of Belize and do right to all manner of people without fear or favour, affection or ill will, so help me God.”

This is the oath of office for the Prime Minister. Now tell me, where does it say anything about maintaining an moral character. It's crystal clear that the focus of this mandate is based upon the duties and responsibilities of the position. And there is a reason for this. It is called a separation of church and state. I am not saying that these men should not be condemned for their actions; this can be done by having an opinion. I am, however, saying that the fervent request that some people put forward to remove them for this reason is unjustified. Spitzer from NY is not a good example because he broke a LAW, so he had to be removed. And lastly, to say that if someone will screw their word to God that they'll have a higher propensity toward corruption I think is absolutely ridiculous. In that case, I too am corrupt for going against the word of God every time I sin. So we want to hold these men on the same level when prosecuting them for corruption ($40 million) BUT we won't hold them on the same level for their personal actions?

unpatriotic patriot said...

It's not a question of morality; it's a question of hypocrisy. Think about the former prime minister. He and his mistress are Catholics, aren't they? A religion that preaches monogamy, right? Then he posed with his "legitimate" partner at public events, and accompanied the other under the rug, as if trying to dispel common knowledge. Now, politics aside, I don't care if he had two women. Personally, the trio seems to have done a fantastic job rearing their children, considering the circumstances. (of course, money could have helped considerably.) The current P.M., Ralph Fonseca, come on! we all know their tales. (By the way, a compilation would be a bestseller, don't you think?) And Belize media tends to go the more quiet European route in how they disclose the personal histories of politicians unlike the USA (Spitzer, Clinton..)I'm sure reading this makes some uncomfortable, esp. for a society as tight-knit as ours.
The Belize government needs to work on secularism. We can't have certain kinds of preaching infiltrating politics, especially when there are obvious contradictions. I need an honest public official. We can't have hypocrites ruling our society. So, if the former P.M. was a bit more acknowledgeable of the obvious relationship discrepancies and perhaps explained to us why he was a Catholic etc., then maybe, I could've earned his respect. Who knows? Maybe his theories would've been viable. Maybe he and the church have some kind of particular agreement we don't know about. Point is, politicians need to put the obvious out there and answer the questions to their paradoxical lives, mind you only if its paradoxical. I'd suggest it to our current P.M. It would end speculation, give people clarity, and then we could focus on his work (the more important stuff). That could be a momentous occasion for Belize. People would start questioning their own personal lives and probably feel embarrassed that their political leaders are brave enough to admit a lifestyle that so many of them practice themselves.

Plato said...

In regard to your points 'unpatriotic patriot', I agree 99%. There IS a reason why you don't see Mr. Musa or Mr. Fonseca at church. It's because they don't want to labeled as hypocrites! Imagine if they went to church every Sunday how bad it would look. Just because you are Catholic, a religion imposed on us from when wi baan, doesn't mean you are a practicing Catholic! So they would be hypocrites if they went to church and openly practiced the religion, not the other way around.

unpatriotic patriot said...

And they can't denounce the religion imposed on them, can they? Wearing the relgious badge is a political strategy, right?

Declare yourself an atheist in Belize, and it's a political death sentence isn't it?

Take a look: Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile (dominantly conservative Catholic society). Single mother and self-proclaimed socialist and atheist. A BBC article stated "Ms. Batchelet is open about her personal life." Wouldn't it be fantastic if our ministers could be the same way?

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4087510.stm

Ms. Batchelet openess is a great tactic to squash possible rumours. No one's going to be busting their brains about her lovelife or her religion. She gave it to media herself! And the spotlight turns on the issues! That's what our politicans need to do!

A local paper or tv network should interview Barrow for a personal profile. Barrow should just get it out there. People will have their answers and we can move on. And we won't have to be talking about him like we do about the former P.M. and Fonseca.

creolegial said...

Actually, Mr. Musa goes to St. Mary's every Sunday morning - he and his wife. I was there on Palm Sunday and there he was walking in. My sister was driving up and said out loud, "Lord, give me the grace not to swerve to the right" otherwise, she would have politely bumped him into the sidewalk ;)

creolegial said...

I understand why this morality and politics thing doesn't mix. You are quite right in saying that there is no law in Belize that addresses this issue - and that is politically correct. When George Bush took office, he too took the oath to "protect the rights and property of the American people" - not to pursue any moral code. But, when he invaded Iraq for the oil or for the political influence, he was carrying out his oath. Americans though, thought it morally wrong - why kill the innocents, blah blah blah. I just feel though that in the Belizean context, people feel strongly enough to want to suggest that these people be removed because these leaders have - not by official oath, but by campaign oath - said that they will strive to be leaders of integrity and honor. They had it in manifestoes, they said it at rallies. And, maybe they are suggesting that it's time for some kind of moral law to be constitutionalized. And should they? Hmm....
And, I do feel that your last statement about "screwing their word to God" left me thinking, "huh?" I don't think that it is at all too ridiculous. Now hear me carefully - you cannot legislate morality- but, when you as a leader try to set all these lofty ideals for 'good governance' and such, then you are suggesting that there is a "higher calling" - we should all be focusing on something more. If you sin, you sin - lie, cheat, steal, kill - whatever. Just because there is no constitutional law against it doesn't mean that people can't demand more - demand that your life as a leader, is seen as an example for what we should all strive for. We are imperfect beings, but not so imperfect as to strive for something higher.
*Sigh* this debate can go on and on: provoking and yet downright aggravating, though. I don't even know if I'm making sense anymore - it's like I'm tying myself up in knots! There will never be a ministry of morality, but there should be a ministry focused on good governance and with good governance, you must have some semblance of personal morality by which you live by, and I think that is the ministry to which I'd say, "count me in".
Peace.

The Voice said...

Ugg... I'm almost regretting bringing up morality at all! When it comes to this topic, we are all tied up in knots! But my point still stands, unpatriotic patriot said it for me... the are hypocrites!

And even without this moral question, they are bad men! Who lied, knowingly, to the Belizean public for years to enrichen themselves. So, matters not if they have half dozen mistresses or whatever, or if they're the most pious people on Earth... they committed illegal actions, so BUN FYAH!

Plato said...

As we can see, this is a topic that can go on and on and I do admit that I find myself questioning the very same arguments I put forward. I think we can, and have the right as voters to demand people of integrity. But obviously many of disagree where that integrity should lie: on the job or at home. This is not to say that we can't send a message to our leaders that we demand better - not perfection, but better. Or at the very least, that they try to mitigate their short-comings. On the morning Spitzer's allegations became public, he offered an opinion that relates to this issue: "I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals. It is about ideas, the public good and about doing what is best for [my state]." Again, we have the right to demand better, but we should be mindful of the level condemnation we express toward our leaders; a call for their political crucifixion is unjustified, but a call for better moral consciousness seems fair enough.

The Voice said...

Ugg... I'm almost regretting bringing up morality at all! When it comes to this topic, we are all tied up in knots! But my point still stands, unpatriotic patriot said it for me... the are hypocrites!

And even without this moral question, they are bad men! Who lied, knowingly, to the Belizean public for years to enrichen themselves. So, matters not if they have half dozen mistresses or whatever, or if they're the most pious people on Earth... they committed illegal actions, so BUN FYAH!

the unpolitical said...

yikes! hot topic indeed ... and while to demand perfection is unfair ... we do deserve the best ... and if we can get good governance by straight up good people, then why not? dont worry too much about the knots though voice - you found the bottom line :P

Anonymous said...

In light of the topic I pose this thought, If we are to condemn our elected leaders based on morality,then let he who is 100% morally centered through the first stone....Didn't see any stones flying did you. Regardless of what fiasco Musa and Fonseca are in now with respect the Venezuaa millions (which in my opinion NEVER really beloged to us in the first place) let's leave morality for the church and it's congregation; let's stick with capability and pluarality.

Plato said...

leave morality for the church. yes. the money never belonged to us? Are you kidding me? You have to substantiate that argument for me my friend.

The Voice said...

**eyebrows up**

Screw morality, that money is ours, buddy!