Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Missing the Boat on Ashcroft

"If home is where the heart is, then Belize is my home."  This heartwarming statement - one that undoubtedly reflects the appeal and innate civility of our Belizean heritage - can be found on the personal website of the richest citizen of Belize, Michael Ashcroft (www.lordashcroft.com).  To the average Belizean, especially those aware of the recent legal tangos involving the Belize Bank and Belize Telemedia Ltd, the simple mentioning of 'the Lord' invokes vulgar thoughts and expressions.  For many, he represents the worst attributes of Westernized capitalism and the closest living example of an economic colonial master.  Based on these accepted notions of Mr. Ashcroft, it seems both absurd and unsurprising that he would refer to Belize as 'home'.   

Foreign investment (FI) is essential for a country's international relations, and this truth is magnified for developing countries who find it difficult to assert themselves on the global level.  The benefits of FI are numerous:  jobs are created, diplomatic relations between countries are formed and strengthened, foreign exchange is circulated, import/export markets are created etc.  Foreign investment also facilitates privatization of local utility companies.  And yes, privatization in an ever-increasing globalized world is a GOOD thing.  Why?  If companies stay nationalized, the onus is on the government to ensure that those companies are providing optimum services - services that require huge investments that governments cannot afford.  Hence, it is better to shift the burden on an investor, be it local or foreign, to ensure the company's continued economic viability.  

So where does all this fit in with regard to Mr. Ashcroft?  I think too often Belizeans have missed the boat when it comes to Ashcroft (and I can hear the gasps as I said that).  Make no mistake, there have been countless occasions when 'the Lord' has taken advantage of the meager legal system in Belize.  However, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure that investors like him do not reap unfair rewards from their investments; our elected officials are the stewards of our nation and we must hold them accountable for endangering the socioeconomic environment by granting too much power to investors.  All businessmen, not just Ashcroft, are rational and self-interested; to expect benevolence from them would be naive.  Their actions are driven mostly by the amount of dollars they can accrue.  Yet, despite this, most investors of Ashcroft's caliber practice good corporate citizenship.  To his credit, he distributes ten university scholarships every year, adopted a primary school through BTL, built a football stadium and other courteous contributions.  Do these actions warrant our sympathy?  Of course not.  Not even 'the Lord' (no pun intended) can wash his dirty hands in the sea of good-will and expect to be held in good graces.  My case is this:  To complain about Ashcroft, as the COLA (Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action) group has done, is futile and fundamentally misplaced.  Rather, it is better, more effective and more appropriate to pressure our government to ensure that our investors stay in check and maintain good business practices.  When the bully at school hits you, do you get in a fight with him or tell the teacher? That seems to be the predicament Belize has found itself in with regard to Michael Ashcroft. 
And yes, Belize Watch is back.  So spread the word.  We love hearing comments.  


Anonymous said...

While I appreciate you thoughtful blog, As an insider who has worked with M.A. at his bank I can tell you that your blog has truly missed the boat on him.

He is nothing more than a Predatory Banker, who enjoys Belize as his little toy, his little game of monopoly, and whose sole financial goal is that his bank's bottom line is bigger than last years.

For example he lent the money for Ramada to be built, let them get in the hole, foreclosed, sold it to a buyer who used Belize Bank money to buy it, gave them some rope, foreclosed again, sold it to another buyer who again used belize bank money, and now in the process of repeating the process again as Princess..it is just an accounting item to him (loans at the bank), not real jobs, not people's livelihoods

And both the PUP and the UDP are in bed with him

Democrates said...

Undoubtedly I believe that both political parties are in bed with him, though I am inclined to believe that one is more comfortable in that bed than the other. Nevertheless, I agree (as I said in the blog) that Ashcroft is by no means benevolent, despite his attempts at charity and good will. The primary message was to point out that it is the government's responsibility to control his suspect business practices. He's mean and shrewd. But name a businessman who isn't to some extent.

Anonymous said...

firstly, i have to say that i wonder if the author of the article is one of those amalia mai/"new PUP"/channel5/belize bank/ telemedia disciples. all of a sudden the government is expected to fend off ashcroft and his billions.

does the author have anything to say about said musa and francis fonseca having signed accommodation agreements in secret for the lord?

ashcroft is nothing more than a cutthroat businessman whose aim is nothing more than getting MORE of whatever he can.

just because a businessman is on the side of the law does not in anyway indicate that he is necessarily of strong moral fibre.

the author contends that the GOVERNMENT is to fight for us. NEWSFLASH!!! ashcroft has infected our political system too! it is only the people-powered organisations that can show solid,valid opposition to ashcroft.

it is probably impossible for the government to do much to frustrate ashcroft's ambitions. how can it when he can pay solicitors and barristers in england that are so much more skilled at legal manoeuvring than our local attorneys? even if we fight as far as the privy council, there is a strong possibility that he will have more favour with the law lords than little belize. remember that ashcroft himself is a member of the house of lords. remember too that musa and fonseca have ceded our right to have any legal disputes rising from ashcroft's telemedia be adjudicated in london, NOT BELIZE.

Democrates said...

As the author, I am not "one of those amalia mai/"new PUP"/channel5/belize bank/ telemedia disciples. A simple perusal of my previous articles on this blog would certainly absolve me of such a notion; I have critiqued policies of both parties.

I believe in objectivity. I did not say that public advocates have no place at all in keeping people like Ashcroft in check. What I do believe however is for government officials to release themselves from the bondage that Ashcroft has tied them to; this in my opinion would be far more effective. For example, Belizeans, such as the members of the COLA group, should lobby their representatives to implement laws that restrict the power and leverage that Ashcroft maintains. To lobby for Ashcroft to leave the country is almost as futile as lobbying for the government to arrest Said and Ralph - it won't happen.

The Voice said...

My dear, Democrates... what a controversial stand point you have taken!

I do believe that this man is using Belize as much as he can. He throws us a few crumbs, the same way a lord sits at his dinner table and throws the remnants of his meal to his dogs.

I agree with you in the fact that only the government can change our laws and policies to protect our national interest from predators like him. And I also agree with the last commenter that people power incites and starts governmental change.

But one things I know for sure... that "Lord" is here to stay... we have to put the controls in place.