Belize - Corruption
Belize has anti-corruption laws on its books, but these laws, which come under the purview of the Office of the Attorney General, are seldom enforced. Due to a backlog in reporting, the most recent publicly available audit of the GOB’s accounts is for the fiscal year April 2011 to March 2012. That report noted that “the government’s financial statements did not reflect a true and fair position of government’s financial position.” The Auditor General expressed serious concerns that government’s bank statements were presented for auditing without being reconciled, and the budget included supplemental spending that was not approved by the National Assembly. The Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act has not been enforced since coming into effect in 1994. This law requires public officials, such as the Governor-General and members of the National Assembly, to disclose in the Government Gazette their assets, income, and liabilities. The Act also established an Integrity Commission responsible to monitor, prevent, and combat corruption by examining declarations of physical assets and financial positions filed by public officers. The Commission is able to investigate allegations of corrupt activities, including by members of the National Assembly, Mayors and Councilors of all cities, and Town Boards.
While the opposition continued to press for the re-establishment of the Integrity Commission, there hasn’t been one since 2011. The Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act criminalizes acts of corruption by public officials and includes measures on the use of office for private gain, code of conduct breaches, the use of public funds, and bribery. Section 24 of the Act covers punishment for breach, which may include a fine of up to U.S. $5,000, severe reprimand, forfeiture of property acquired by corruption, and removal from office. The last report of the integrity commission was published in 2005. No cases under this Act have ever led to prosecution.
Belize has an Office of the Ombudsman, whose responsibility is to investigate complaints of official corruption and abuse of power. A new Ombudsman was appointed in January 2013 and the office has been more active in filing annual reports to the national assembly and investigating incidents of alleged misconduct particularly of police abuses. The office however lacks enforcement powers, encounters political pressure and has limited resources -- all factors limiting its effectiveness.
There are a limited number of non-governmental institutions that monitor government activities; two of them are Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) and the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB). The first is comprised of concerned private citizens, and the latter is an umbrella organization comprised of the various Belizean workers’ unions. Environmental NGOs and the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry often make statements regarding government policy as it affects their respective spheres of activity.
Belize is dominated by two political parties, the People’s United Party (PUP) and United Democratic Party (UDP). In 2008, the UDP was elected on an anti-corruption platform, re-elected in 2012, and was recently re-elected again for an unprecedented third term following early snap elections held November 2015. There is a third party, currently without national representation, called Vision Inspired by the People (VIP), which has focused on the issue of corruption and the need to sign UNCAC.
Many businesspeople complain that both major political parties can and do practice partisanship bias that affects businesses in terms of receiving needed licenses, winning government contracts for procurement of goods and services, and the granting of government land to private owners. Some middle-class citizens and business owners throughout the country have complained of government officials, including police and others, soliciting bribes.
There are occasional reports of requests for bribes from customs officials to facilitate lower assessments of goods for importation and thus lower import duties. Bribery is officially considered a criminal act in Belize, but laws against bribery are rarely enforced.
Some businesses and residents in the country have alleged that some officials demand payoffs if an inspection reveals a breach of fisheries laws. For example, restaurants and resorts carrying under-sized lobsters and conch are subject to court summons and a fine, but payoffs allegedly circumvent court charges or payment of fines.
The illegal harvesting and extraction of exotic hardwoods from the Belize forest continues to be a problem even after the 2012 moratorium that the Government placed on the harvesting of rosewood. It is believed that the meager fines levied on illegal loggers are not a disincentive particularly when compared to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that can be earned from sale of rosewood to foreign markets. There are several legitimate logging enterprises that operate sustainably, but illegal logging continues with mahogany, rosewood, cedar and other species. In March 2013, the Convention on the International Trade on Endangered Species adopted a proposal from Belize and placed three varieties of rosewood on its Appendix 2, which limits the trade of rosewood across international lines. Belize made a formal observation that allows “value-added” products to be traded freely.
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