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Nov 3, 2005

“Uneasy arrangement at best,” say Cabinet ministers

Story PictureThe official confirmation came in black and white this morning, courtesy of the Belize Times: Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde are once again ministers of government. Espat has been appointed Minister of National Development, Investment and Culture, with responsibility for the Social Investment Fund, Basic Needs Trust Fund, investment promotion, export processing zones and commercial free zones. Hyde is now Minister of Defence, Housing, Sports and Youth, with a mandate to embark on several Southside Belize City development projects including infrastructural improvement and urban renewal. But the question most Belizeans are pondering tonight is: “Why?” According to the newly minted ministers, unlike last December when Espat was shut out and Hyde walked out of the Musa Cabinet, this time around they have simply decided to accept the P.M.’s invitation to rejoin that executive body. And all that badmouthing and bickering? They were just doing their jobs as backbenchers. As further evidence of their good standing, both men have been appointed deputy national campaign managers for the People’s United Party. Veteran Ralph Fonseca remains as the campaign manager. This morning during a chat at our studio, Espat and Hyde maintained that their homecoming was motivated by the welfare of their constituents.

Cordel Hyde, Min. of Defence, Housing, Sports & Youth
?On December twenty-eighth, on a matter of principle, I decided to decline the Prime Minister?s invitation to go into his Cabinet, and my constituency understood that and stood by me with that principled position for the last ten months. But at the end of the day we have to be responsible to our constituents, we are politicians and we have to answer, in my case to sixty-two hundred constituents, in Mark?s case I imagine about three thousand, and at the end of the day they?ve sacrificed immensely over the last ten months. It hasn?t been easy because our constituents are mostly people from the base of the economic pyramid and if you ask them if they want us to be outside complaining with them or they want us to be inside the Cabinet serving them and trying our best to improve their standard of living, then overwhelmingly they will say that they want the latter. And so I think it is a decision for us that is influenced solely by how best we can help our constituents and how best we can provide for them. This is not a situation of a happy ending; this is not ?Little House on the Prairie? by no means. I think it is an uneasy arrangement at best, but it is a situation we are prepared to work because our constituents need us to try to work that system.?

Mark Espat, Min. of National Dev., Investment & Culture
?In no way are we retreating from the positions we took. Whenever a vote came, it was a vote that we made in good conscience and reflecting the will of our constituents. As members of the Cabinet, we are not going to be anything but agents of change. I can tell you we are going back as agents of change and promoters of even greater political reform… issues like campaign finance reform, strengthening even further the Finance and Audit Act, tax reform to try and relieve the burden, as Cordel said on the bottom of the economic pyramid, some sort of responsible recall mechanism to address the frustration of many voters. Those are the things that we are going to promote as we did before, but even more ardently now that these ten months have allowed us to gain the perspectives of so many Belizeans of all political stripes and in all six districts.?

Cordel Hyde
?I think one of my constituents, an older lady, put it best. She said, ?Son, you only have two options, you either go blue or you go new, but the red is not an option.? It?s a grave responsibility they?ve put on us, but I think at the same time we can?t take it lightly, we can?t be whimsical about it because two constituencies or a few constituencies do not make it a third party, do not make it a government. And at the end of the day, we have a responsibility to those constituents of ours, particularly those that need us to be active to be able to deliver to them, to be able to help them to improve their standard of living. We have to take their considerations very seriously and at this point in time, I believe that the P.U.P. in this Cabinet is the best way for us to support our constituents. But I must say that if the major political parties, the two mass parties as they call them, particularly the P.U.P., if they don?t return to whence they came, if they don?t return to the grassroots, to the base of the economic pyramid, then you may end up with a third party sooner rather than later.?

Mark Espat
?For us, the talk of a new party wasn?t out of ego or out of vengeance, it was because so many people were saying to us, we are not satisfied with what is on the table. The P.U.P. has a very clear choice and that choice is to renew, to reinvigorate itself, and to offer the electorate what they are asking for, to be true to its creed, to strive for its aims and objectives, to let that social justice mantra emerge more clearly for the electorate. And so we go back with the hope and with the expectations that there will be a new P.U.P. and that the P.U.P. will so differentiate itself against the Opposition party that thousands of Belizeans who want to vote blue will be given a reason to vote blue.?

Janelle Chanona
?In the context of why you left in the first place, what if anything has changed since you speak of a new P.U.P. and of an electorate disillusioned with the P.U.P., so what??

Mark Espat
?The backbench ought to be a check and balance. In terms of going back and working with the government and the P.U.P., for us it was never personal and we don?t take anything that has happened personally. But neither, as Cordel has said, are we going to sit here and suggest to you that our positions have changed. For example, as it relates to the B.T.L. issue?which he and I voted against?we continue to feel that the B.T.L. solution should have included the workers, should have included more Belizean investors. And while Mr. Ashcroft may be a shrewd and reportedly successful business entrepreneur, we have to be shrewd and successful administrators and politicians. So believe me, we have not been anything other than strengthened in so far as what our convictions are and in so far as what we intend to fight for.?

Cordel Hyde
?We never were personal in our attacks in the pursuance of our jobs. I think that when we were in the Cabinet, we agitated, we tried to make our views known. But within the context of the Cabinet there is this tenet of collective responsibility, and after you agitate and demonstrate and demonstrate and you reach a consensus, then you must support whatever decision is made at that point. When you are a backbencher, the vibrancy of our democracy allows you to be louder, to be more emphatic, to be more public as it relates to pursuing the objectives, the wishes, the feelings of our constituencies. And at times that has found us in diametrically opposed positions to the party we are members of, but we never tried to be personal.?

?I think we tried to demonstrate to our fellow backbenchers and future backbenchers that you must work the system. This system of just sitting there and just agreeing to everything that comes, that?s not democracy, that?s not the way it should work.?

Janelle Chanona
?You realise though that as part of your re-entry in the P.U.P. echelon, so to speak, as deputy campaign managers for the People?s United Party, you do realize that your words from the backbench of the House of Representatives will come back to be used against you by the Opposition and by members of your own party who question your motives or your agenda.?

Mark Espat
?Our intention is absolutely not to make the party weaker, but the make the party stronger, to make the party stronger by working our democracy and by pointing out ways in which the government could have moved in a more popular position. At the end of the day, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet have to make difficult decisions and when you are on the backbench you don?t have to, you don?t have to make all those calculations. And so our position to party members and as deputy national campaign managers, will be to put forward what the manifesto, what the creed, what the aims and the objectives of the P.U.P. are. I am certain that we are going to have some dynamic new people come in to offer fresh perspectives as part of the nine slates or the two cities and seven towns all over Belize.?

Cordel Hyde
?We never resigned from the P.U.P. and they never expelled us.?

Janelle Chanona
?But they did tell you to get out of the kitchen though.?

Cordel Hyde
?I didn?t, I wasn?t listening to that because I think that we were pushing the party to reach for higher heights, pushing the party to adjust to the changing times. People are far less partisan than ever before, far more disillusioned, far more cynical than ever before, and the old way of doing things cannot function in 2005, 2006 and thereafter; we have to do things differently. Our constituencies elected us to think, not to go up there and be straw men or straw women, or to just be mummies or dummies, they expect us to think and act on their behalf and I think that was what we were doing.?

Janelle Chanona
?The Opposition has openly condemned your actions as following the money, swallowing your own vomit, realising the third won?t win. They have now said that you have no credibility. What would be your answer to them??

Cordel Hyde
?What do you expect?? (Chuckles)

Mark Espat
?I listened to the Leader of the Opposition yesterday evening and I respect his office, and as far as Mr. Barrow is concerned, I respect his intelligence; he is a well spoken gentleman. I was disappointed at his harsh language, especially since we are not in the unprincipled and quote unquote selfish position of having to justify why we go to court to defend Ecom transactions while advising the unions. We are not in the position where as Leader of the Opposition, we have declared that were our backbenchers to do their jobs they would quote unquote have to go, and we did not sit as Mr. Barrow sat for five years and three months, on the benches of his government and see his party sink to the lowest level of popularity in its history and not utter a word against the policies of his government and his party. The P.U.P., apparently with this decision, is far more progressive, far more tolerant, and Prime Minister Musa is proving that in very clear terms.?

Cordel Hyde
?I don?t pay much attention to what they think or what they say, because at the end of the day, what do you expect? They want to be where we are and I am not so sure that if they were in our positions that they would have done what we have done.?

The new line-up means that the Prime Minister transfers National Development and Investment to Espat, while holding on to the Ministries of Finance and the Public Service. Francis Fonseca is still Attorney General and Minister of Education, but he gives up Youth and Sports to Hyde, and culture to Espat. Hyde also picks up Defence from Vildo Marin, who continues as Minister of Health and Labour, and Housing from Sylvia Flores who is now only in charge of the Ministry of Human Development. All other portfolios remain unchanged.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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