By Britney Gordon
“In effect, the [political] clinics are replacing the government social welfare role, and they become the first resort,” says political scientist Dr. Dylan Vernon.
Speaking with The Reporter, Vernon—the author of “Political Clientelism and Democracy in Belize from My Hand to Yours”—noted that political clinics have become a breeding ground for clientelism as politicians continue to abuse their position to amass political support.
Vernon attributes poverty as a prominent cause for the persistence of the corruption within these clinics.
“The system needs to change,” Vernon concluded, reaffirming that informing the masses is merely a small start to a greater solution. To address the corruption from the root, Vernon lists several changes that can be made as a start. These include establishing campaign finance regulations, as well as persecuting bribery.
In his book, Vernon states that women are more likely to visit these clinics and receive goods as they are typically responsible for the management of the household. Groceries and financial aid are common handouts to this demographic.
However, Vernon affirmed that poor Belizeans are not the only citizens to benefit from the clinics. Land, scholarships, fee exemptions, and loans are among the handouts upper-class citizens receive.
Introduced to Belize by Right Honorable George Cadle Price in the 1950s, political clinics—also known as political surgeries in other jurisdictions—exist to function as the base of operations at the constituency level. Elected individuals hold surgeries in their constituency to give people an opportunity to meet them and discuss matters of concern or request assistance in regard to local or national government matters.
As the popularity of these clinics grew, the distinction between political operations and political clientelism became harder to make. Politicians receive between $4000 and $5000 per month to handle operations. However, more often than not, these funds are used to purchase goods and services as gifts for the public in exchange for political support.