Friday, March 29, 2019
Dr. Jill Wells PhD is a Senior Policy and Research Advisor with Engineers against Poverty. Her paper titled Corruption in the Construction of Public Infrastructure: Critical Issues in Project Preparation which she presented in March 2015 states “In the period leading up to elections, politicians often interfere to push projects that benefit their constituents (generally roads and bridges). Governments can also use construction projects as a major source of election funding for the ruling party.” Just as the Leader of the Opposition (LOO) stated in his remarks of, what will now be infamously known as the Kickback Budget 2019, Belize is afflicted with corruption in all its multiple manifestations. The symptoms we suffer are similar to those of many developing countries’ because the affliction or disease is the same.
This bogus budget and its orchestrators seek to shrink the budget of the Auditor General who will now be even less equipped to oversee the tendering processes for these infrastructure projects. Perhaps this is just the purpose. The World Bank and other agencies have now shifted focus on the tendering process and in strengthening anti-corruption measures there in an effort to minimize the scourge and to assure that there is proper value for money in public expenditure. Public infrastructure projects must be guarded closely as they have the ability to impact economic growth and poverty.
The country is now littered with “white elephant” projects that are characteristically roads or airports with little demand or traffic. These are the cases in point for both the Caracol Road and the controversial San Pedro International Airport. We can also appreciate another symptom of obvious kickback projects, those that have been built but have no operational budget or whose operational budget is sub-par. These can clearly be seen in the multitude of polyclinics being built especially in the North. Another way in which we are bamboozled are by those capital investment projects that are never completed, such as the 7th Avenue/ Highway Project in Corozal which three years later has not had the lamp posts and lights installed on the meridian.
Clearly, these are tangible and visible instances where corruption is glaringly evident. We must put a stop to this fleecing of the public purse. These high ranking politicians who exert their political influence to award contracts for personal gain, in return for party contributions, or to favour their supporters must stop. Ill-awarded contracts are often bloated, the better to syphon off proceeds. The works are very often sub-standard which makes them, in some instances, dangerous and likely to deteriorate very quickly which reduces the economic rate of return. This makes it easier to continue the cycle of corruption.
It’s a big joke in Belize, we always know when there is an election afoot. We say that because streets begin to be paved, and bridges built and even if there is no river, the projects starts. It signals the start of the campaign season, we think it’s because the UDP will once again try to woo the electorate with grandiose and empty shows of concern for our well-being and their hard work. The phenomenon clearly is not seen only in Belize. These gimmicks are documented symptoms of a plague known as corruption, clearly immune to double-sided machetes, it must be rooted out!