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Twenty Questions - The January Interview

with Prime Minister Hon. Said Musa

Prime Minister Hon. Said Musa of Belize According to your biographical information, we understand that you were born in the town of San Ignacio in 1944. What was it like as a child growing up in the Cayo District? How has the district changed since your youth?

Hon.Said Musa: As a child growing up in San Ignacio, in the late 1940s I enjoyed some of the most beautiful and memorable experiences of my life.

I attended St. Andrews' Primary School, a poor one-room wooden structure of a school that housed all of us from infant one to standard six with blackboards dividing the classes.

And yet because of the good teachers that we had like Miss Flowers and Miss Ruth Patten we somehow learned to read, to write to add, subtract, multiply and divide. At primary school, we were exposed to good literature and classical poetry like Wordsworth's "The Daffodils".

I can still remember that 'speech night' when I had to recite "I wandered lonely as a cloud, that floats on high o'er vales and hills, when all at once I saw a cloud a host of golden daffodils."...

We were poor in material things. No electricity no running water, living in a rented house with an outhouse latrine... but we were rich in community spirit, rich in being able to enjoy a free-wheeling life style, hunting with our sling shot, swimming and fishing in the clean beautiful Macal river with its sandy bays, climbing plum trees and eating plums to our hearts content while perched on a limb for what now seems like hours on end. It was a joy to be alive!

Today San Ignacio is a more bustling modern town. The western highway now links this once chicle and timber town to the rest of the country and indeed to the neighbouring countries of Central America. San Ignacio is now a mecca for the adventurous eco-tourists to visit the Mountain Pine Ridge with its majestic waterfalls and pristine caves. Maya temples such as Cahal Pech and Xunantunich are only a stone's throw away. A visit to the thriving Mennonite agricultural community of Spanish Lookout takes you through rolling hills, green fields and pasture lands - an encounter with the idyllic past and the technological future.

Electricity, potable water and telecommunications and new housing estates have come to San Ignacio. My old home town in the west has seen rapid change and development, but the unique charm and friendliness of its people remain You were on the committee that wrote the constitution for Belize. What an honour it must have been. Please tell us what it meant to you.

Hon. Said Musa: In the period leading up to Belize's independence on September 21, 1981, I served as the Attorney General and Minister of Education and Sports in the Government of Prime Minister George Price.

Looking back it was an honour to share in the discussions and negotiations with the British Foreign Office in the drafting of our Independence Constitution. It was for me history in the making and I was excited and happy to be a part of it. the Prime Minister of the country of Belize, with brief elaboration upon each, what would you consider to be the top five most immediate challenges facing your administration today?

Hon. Said Musa: The top five most immediate challenges:

(1) Maintaining and strengthening good governance.
As the UN Secretary General Kofi Anan said in 1999: "Good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and providing development."

Belize stands out as a beacon of hope and as a "bright young thing" in our region of the world. A mere twenty-two years old, Belize is hitting its stride as a friendly democratic country where an ethnically diverse population live together harmoniously, speaking English as the common language. But progress brings problems and as Belize, "Nature's best kept secret", becomes more open to the world, globalization brings tremendous material opportunities; but it also exposes a vulnerable people to the lure and temptation of "the easy buck" where selfish greed and an erosion of traditional values and a loss of community spirit can, if left unchecked, subvert the march of progress, the work ethic, the need for greater productivity and the very integrity of the nation.

I see it as crucial for the Government to remain connected and in touch with the people and to inspire and motivate them by example and by a process of reformation and transformation to uphold the rule of law and ethical behaviour in public life in the public sector, private sector and civil society.

(2) Preparing our young people through education for the world of the 21st century.
Belize is a young country. More than half the population is under 20 years. Our government has put education as the new priority investing almost 25% of the national budget on education from pre-school to university with an emphasis on primary and secondary education.

We are about to embark on a major investment ($42 million) on vocational and technical education, building "Centres of Employment Training" (CETs) in all six districts of Belize. Our children must be imbued with the knowledge, skills and attitude for self-fulfillment, as well as with civic values, healthy lifestyles and social responsibility as citizens of Belize.

Education is the key to fighting poverty. Public Education offers the only cost-effective and sustainable way to address quality of life issues be it HIV/AIDS, death and destruction caused by drunk driving, careless driving, bad eating habits and lack of regular physical exercise resulting in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, hyper-tension and cardio-vascular diseases.

(3) Access to good quality health care for all.
Our government is presently engaged in expanding health care coverage across the country. Health care costs pose a serious challenge to any young developing country. The only sustainable solution is a national health insurance scheme that would ensure the delivery of basic health services to all, free at the point of delivery, and paid for by Social Security and patient's contributions with the Government paying for indigents.

(4) Personal Security.
People's safety and security have become a matter of growing concern because of an increase in crimes of violence fuelled by the drug trade and a proliferation of firearms. Belize like other countries in the Caribbean and Central America is on the transit route of drugs moving up from South America to the United States and Europe. This illegal traffic poses a serious threat to our fledgling democracy. We need the help and assistance of the international community to combat this scourge and maintain peace and security in Belize.

(5) Sustainable Growth and Development.
We have to ensure that Belize continues on a steady growth path if we are to provide the resources for our people to live in safety with affordable health care, and educating their children in a decent environment. Economic growth that will generate jobs and a better quality of life is the ongoing challenge that we face.

The Belizean economy faces severe tests from the dismantling of preferential access to markets in the US and Europe for our agricultural products such as sugar and bananas. The depressed prices for our citrus and other crops coupled with the steep increases in imported oil prices have aggravated the situation. On the bright side however Tourism and Aqua Culture (particularly shrimp farming) have shown tremendous expansion with the potential for even more impressive growth. The duties of Prime Minister are obviously demanding, both mentally and physical. What do you do to keep in shape? What is your favourite past-time occupation?

Hon. Said Musa: I ride a bicycle in the morning from home to a gym where I do a bit of workout most mornings. I also look forward to getting out of the office on a regular basis visiting communities and schools around the country.
My favourite past-time is reading and listening to music and watching a good movie. What is your greatest outdoor adventure ever experienced in Belize?

Hon. Said Musa: My greatest outdoor adventure ever experienced in Belize was walking for miles through thick jungle, mud and water during the rainy season back in 1998 to visit a remote village in the Toledo District called Dolores. Thank goodness we have since built a road to this village. I call it a great adventure now. At the time it was sheer torture that ended in a feeling of exhilaration when we reached our destination and the village people received us warmly. What is your most favourite Belizean food dish? Can you offer the recipe?

Hon. Said Musa: My favourite Belizean food dish is Conch Fritters.
The recipe:
2 c. ground conchs 1 c. Flour 1/2c. Evaporated milk or coconut
cream, 2 tbsps. Grated onion, 2 tbsp. Grated green pepper (hot), ¾ to 1 tsp.
Salt , 1 ½ tsp. Baking powder, 1/8 tsp. Black pepper, olive oil or vegetable oil for frying.
Clean conchs by peeling off outer dark skin. Rinse in lime water or vinegar. Grind. Combine ground conchs, onion, pepper and milk and mix well. Sift dry ingredients together and add to conch mixture beating until smooth. Drop enough batter for medium fritter in hot fat; fry until evenly brown. Drain on paper. Serve at once. What is your most favourite locally grown fruit, what the most favourite vegetable?

Hon. Said Musa: My favourite locally grown fruit is Mango. My favourite vegetable is peanuts. Have you ever had the luck to see any of Belize's exotic wildlife such as a jaguar, tapir or the like? Have you ever been bitten by a scorpion, snake or spider?

Hon. Said Musa: Yes, I have seen jaguars, ocelots, deer, wild turkeys, tapir, crocodiles, the jabiru stork (the largest flying bird in the Americas), baboons, gibnuts, peccary, warrie, armadillos, and many other exotic wildlife in Belize. No, I have never been bitten by a scorpion, snake or spider. How many of the Maya archaeological sites in Belize have you visited? Which site was the most fascinating for you?

Hon. Said Musa: I believe I have visited most if not all of the Maya archaeological sites in Belize. The most fascinating to me is Lamanai on the banks of the new River in the Orange Walk District. What is the greatest asset of Belize?

Hon. Said Musa: The greatest asset of Belize is undoubtedly its people - cheerful, respectful, open, hospitable, god-fearing and easy going. Can you tell us a highlight to date of your life as Prime Minister of Belize?

Hon. Said Musa: One of the highlights to date of my life as Prime Minister of Belize has to be the overwhelming vote of confidence the Belizean people gave to the People's United Party in re-electing us for a second five-year term with a parliamentary majority of 22 seats out of 29. This was the first time since Independence that a party in Government was elected for a consecutive term. We recently read that your son graduated from law school and has joined the Belize bar. Can you tell us a highlight of your personal life?

Hon. Said Musa: A highlight of my personal life was celebrating with the extended family, my mother's 85th birthday. What are the top five books we should all read in our lifetime? What books are you reading at the moment? Which books do you plan to buy the next trip to the bookstore?

Hon. Said Musa: The top five books we should all read in our lifetime are: The Gospel According to St. John, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Graham Green's "The Power and the Glory", Gabriel Marquez' "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and Franz Fanon "The Wretched of the Earth". Who would be on your list of favourite Belizean artists, writers and musicians? Who would be on your list of favourite non-Belizean artists, writers and musicians? What kind of music do you like to listen to?

Hon. Said Musa: My favourite Belizean artists include Pen Cayetano, Louis Belisle, Benjamin Nicholas, Michael Gordon, Gilvano Swasey and (my son) Yasser Musa. My favourite Belizean writers include Evan X Hyde, Assad Shoman, Zee Edgell and the late Fr. Hunter. My favourite Belizean musicians include Frankie Reneau, Nelita Castillo, Chico Ramos, Super G and Mr. Peters.

On my list of non-Belizean artists are Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Diego Riviera, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. On my list of favourite non-Belizean writers are Graham Green, Gabriel Marquez, Carlos Fuentes and Paul Theroux. On my list of favourite non-Belizean musicians are Bob Dylan, Sting, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley and Nora Jones.

I like to listen to folk music, rock music, reggae and jazz and a bit of classical. How would you answer the question "What is (the) Belizean Culture?"

Hon. Said Musa: What is Belizean Culture? It is a tapestry of colorful diverse cultures; the drum beat of Africa; Maya temples; at least seven languages with English (creole) as the common tongue; mestizo culinary delights like tacos, relleno negro, tamales and escabeche sharing space with creole rice and beans, plantains and chicken and the Garifuna hudut and serè; It is the bruck down music, the punta and the ranchero. Belizean culture is Caribbean, Central American, yet catholic in its artistic expressions, with a deep seated love for fair-play and freedom. Belize is so ecologically diverse with natural beauty abundant. What do you consider the most beautiful spot in all of Belize?

Hon. Said Musa: I consider the Mountain Pine Ridge near Privacion Creek the most beautiful spot in all of Belize. What should a tourist to Belize expect from his or her visit? What should they not expect?

Hon. Said Musa: A tourist to Belize should expect a warm climate, friendly people, a charming quaint old Belize City, a garden Capital City of Belmopan - one of the smallest and greenest capital city in the Americas, the best diving
spots in the world near to the largest coral barrier reef in the western hemisphere, majestic Maya temples, rainforests with rich flora and fauna, beautiful waterfalls and cave systems.

What not to expect ? McDonalds and Burger Kings. What is your favourite vacation spot outside of Belize?

Hon. Said Musa: My favourite vacation spot outside of Belize is Vancouver, Canada. This premier Edition of focuses on Belize's Toledo District. What is your favourite place/spot in Toledo?

Hon. Said Musa: My favourite spot in Toledo is the quiet verdant, hilly village of San Jose. What do you consider the biggest challenge for Belize and Belizeans in the 21st century?

Hon. Said Musa: The biggest challenge for Belize and Belizeans in the 21st century is to maintain a healthy balance between growth and development for this generation while preserving the natural beauty and ecology of Belize for future generations. What would you most want someone reading this article to remember about what Prime Minister Said Musa has to say?

Hon. Said Musa: Belize stands out as a beacon of hope, a friendly democratic country which has been a refuge for many races and peoples. Belize is a young nation with tremendous potential for growth and development. Last question, please predict the future for the people of Belize

Hon. Said Musa: With caring and compassionate leadership Belize has shown that it can "punch above its weight" in the international community serving as a bridge between the Caribbean and Central America.

By focusing on education and the human resource capacity building of our people and by the continued promotion of local and foreign investments in agro-industry, tourism, aguaculture, seizing the opportunities offered by science and information technology we will achieve our commitment to the Millennium Development goals : universal primary education, gender equality, reducing child mortality, combating HIV/AIDS, ensuring environmental sustainability, and eradicating extreme poverty from our land.

I see a future where our young people will be engaged in decent and productive work, our children enjoying healthy recreation and sport while getting equal opportunity for a sound education. I see a bright future for Belize living in peace with all its neighbours, a country with energy and vitality that offers each and every Belizean and all who choose to make "this jewel" their home, the opportunity to be part of the life and the work of a new Belize - a nation under God with respect for the rule of law whose citizens are imbued with values of respect, tolerance, honesty and love of country. In closing, do you have any words of encouragement that you would like to offer to our staff regarding the launching of - The Internet Magazine of Belize?

Hon. Said Musa: To the Editor in Chief and Staff of - The Internet Magazine of Belize, I offer whole-hearted congratulations. I feel honoured that you have asked me to participate in your premier edition. And I look forward to reading positive and uplifting articles about Belize for many years to come.

Photo provided by Richard Holder, All rights reserved.

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