“The Eskimos have thirty words for describing different kinds of snow, and modern Russian has about the same number of expressions to describe giving a bribe to a state official.”
― Viktor Pelevin
Last night and the night before on the news, Belizeans would have been stunned to see reports on a most unusual event: the return of funds to a businesswoman who allegedly ‘gifted’ it to a Belize City Council employee. The event is unusual and shocking, not because someone gave $2,500 in cash as a gift, but because it was brought to the Mayor and he actually returned it. We refer to it as a gift because last night on the news the Deputy Mayor was emphatic that a gift is all it was.
We do not know the level of friendship that merits such a generous gift, nor do we know if this businessperson is a regular benefactor to City Hall. We must assume that such generous gifting -well beyond the usual calendar, coffee mug or bottle of whisky- is based on strong friendships and even stronger purchase contracts. So, for transparency’s sake, how many garbage bags do I have to buy in order to become such a good friend?
It’s only $2,500, not a massive sum of money compared to other conversations on gifts. But in an increasingly corrupt country, this is still big news, as big in its own way as the news of an after-hours airplane actually being busted with personnel, cargo and corrupt cops. In particular, if the Mayor, as is reported, did indeed note down every single serial number, send the lot back and remind the person that another ‘gift’ she made was also inappropriate, this is a good start. It is, unfortunately, a teaspoonful of ice from a giant iceberg, but still miles better than nothing at all.
Unfortunately, unless we celebrate and encourage these small wins against corruption, unless we put major emphasis on the wins as well as the losses, we will continue to lose the battle. And to lose this particular battle is to lose Belize. Corruption on the large scale results in nocturnal plane landings, clearance-sale prices on valuable national lands, colossal piles of unexplainable cash passing through Free Zones, banks refusing to do business with us, invisible imports of normally dutiable goods, and massive discounts on GST and business tax payments that the rest of us must make up through higher taxes.
If we think it’s okay that $2,500 is seen as a gift with no strings attached; if we are only wondering how to benefit from such ‘friendship’ ourselves, then we are part of the problem. As it stands, every instance of corruption that occurs is -to put it plainly- money stolen directly out of the pockets of decent, hardworking Belizeans. Leadership of the kind Belize needs must not only refuse to condone corruption, but must call it what it is, condemn it and take the strongest possible action against it wherever it rears its ugly head.
So kudos to Mayor Wagner, and let us hope that he continues these practices, and that this becomes the kind of viral action that spreads beyond party lines. To ‘friendly’ businesspeople such as Ms Nan, perhaps you should consider giving a nice bottle of Belizean rum. To the rest of you elected leaders out there, it’s time you sharpened your machete and put it to good use.