As one of the signatories to the “Open Letter to the Prime Minister”, I wanted to take a moment to emphasise some of the points my colleagues and I made that I feel are particularly pertinent, especially as Belize celebrates independence this month.
Along with many Belizeans I am disturbed by the lack of consultation and the haste in which the memorandum of understanding between the government of Belize and Norwegian Cruise Lines in regards to the sale of Harvest Caye has been signed. We believe that this rush to sign such an important document with such far reaching consequences may run counter to the very notion of the democracy we are celebrating.
I think we all agree that Belize is owned by the people of Belize, and that the government of the day’s job is to manage the affairs of the nation on behalf of and as a representative of the people who put it in power. But how can a government presume to represent its citizens if they are not consulted about major decisions that will impact the nation today and into the future?
There is a covenant between a democratic government and its people that those elected to power will act openly and in the public interest, and once this covenant is violated, any pretext of democracy goes out the window. That is why transparency and public disclosure are so important.
It is healthy that people are questioning the need for haste in the Harvest Caye proposal and are concerned about the absolute lack of consultation with people and organisations who have been a part of Belize’s stellar success as the Caribbean’s most pristine tourism destination. This is democracy at work.
While we are not for a moment suggesting that the GOB is acting misleadingly, we are calling into question their tactics in this instance. So once again, the Big Question: Why the Rush? What is to be gained, and who benefits by rushing into this deal?
Harvest Caye is a public asset, as is the Belize brand. It is for all Belizeans and their children and their children’s children, not just for a chosen few. Many, many Belizeans have been involved in making Belize such a successful tourism destination. It has been the hard work, the warmth, friendliness and the unique character of the Belizean people combined with a stunning, pristine landscape that put us in the enviable position we are in today. Why then, are the Belizean people being excluded from such an important decision?
Cruise ship terminals come and go – that’s fact. They exist as long as they are profitable. But a pristine, untouched natural wonderland that has taken millions of years to form is something special, and once desecrated, it is gone forever.
And a reputation as a true eco-destination operating under the principles of sustainable, responsible travel can take generations to win back, once it is tarnished.
We are not rejecting the NCL proposals out of hand. All we have ever asked for is the chance to hear exactly what is being proposed and to have the time to consider it. We are merely asking that the government adhere to the democratic processes this nation has been founded upon and to act as a truly transparent representational government that takes into account the will of the people, not the dictates of a multinational corporation.
It is significant that we are discussing the same reef and body of water that the early Belizeans fought so valiantly to protect during that September in 1798, and that we are having this debate on the anniversary of Belize’s independence. True democracy is displayed in the actions of the democratically elected government sworn to represent the people who elected it. Otherwise, all the flag waving, speeches and parades become a hollow exercise rather than the expression and celebration of a free people working together with their elected representatives for a better future.