CABINET RESHUFFLE OR POLITICAL PAYBACK?


UNCLAS BELMOPAN 000097


DEPT FOR WHA/CEN - CHRISTOPHER ASHE
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR BH
SUBJECT: CABINET RESHUFFLE OR POLITICAL PAYBACK?


1. Summary: Less than one week after the incumbent United
Democratic Party (UDP) won a landslide victory in municipal
elections, the Prime Minister (PM) has reshuffled his cabinet.
These changes involve the removal of one Minister -- Marcel Cardona,
changed portfolios for three more, and the restructuring of two
Ministries. While the move is widely seen as political payback and
has raised criticism from the ousted Cardona, the overwhelming UDP
majority is not likely to suffer from much political fallout. End
summary.


2. On March 10, 2009 PM Dean Barrow announced that he would be
making changes to his Cabinet. The GOB has stated publicly that
this change of portfolios is "in the interest of smooth functioning
of the business of Government." These changes involve the removal
of one Minister, Marcel Cardona, the reshuffle of three more, and
the restructuring of two Ministries. As Minister of Culture,
Sports, and Youth since the UDP came to power in February 2008,
Cardona is now just a backbencher. His former Ministry has been
divided up. Jose Manuel Heredia, currently the Minister of Tourism
and Civil Aviation, has been assigned additional responsibility in
the area of Culture. Elvin Penner, formerly a Minister of State in
the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, has been
appointed Minister for Youth, Sports, Information and Broadcasting.
Former backbencher Marco Pech has been appointed to replace Penner
as Minister of State in the Ministry of Natural Resources and the
Environment.


3. The change followed a special meeting of the Cabinet on March 6,
during which Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega called for the
removal of Cardona. From his appointment a year ago, Cardona has
been criticized as not having enough experience to hold a
Ministerial level position; however, his replacement has even less
experience.


4. Cardona has stated he believes that he was removed as a form of
punishment for having publicly embarrassed the PM and his
self-avowed open, transparent, accountable, and corruption-free
Government, by publicly exposing the obvious sweetheart deal
involving the development of land at an archaeological reserve. The
secret contract was signed by Diane Haylock, the president of the
National Institute of Culture and History (NICH). Beginning in
January when the controversy over Haylock's unauthorized contract
erupted in the media, Cardona denounced her actions and called for
her removal. He was then directed by the Cabinet to extend her
contract for another year. Following this episode, he chose not to
actively campaign for the UDP during the recent municipal election,
though he refrained from openly criticizing the party. This led UDP
leaders, including Vega, to suggest he was not a "team player."

5. Comment. While the cabinet reshuffle was not unexpected, the
scale is smaller than many anticipated. It was widely believed that
more than one Minister would be replaced and that the portfolios of
several Ministers would be reduced. Zeroing in on Cardona as the
only Cabinet Minister ousted from his position, his removal is seen
as the political consequence of his failing to follow the party line
during the unauthorized contract controversy. Many in the party
felt that Cardona's open opposition to the NICH President, a friend
of the PM and long-time party loyalist, was a slap at the PM and
party.


6. After taking 64 of 67 seats in the municipal election of March
4, the UDP can afford to make this obvious political change to the
cabinet without incurring much backlash. While there is speculation
that Cardona may court proposals from the PUP, this will not likely
result in much political fallout for the UDP, as the next elections
are not slated until early 2013. The more intense speculation
concerns if and when the PM will follow through with a further
reshuffle of the Cabinet, which is expected to involve changes
concerning more powerful and politically-connected Ministers.
Recent events suggest that such a move will not occur until at least
after the new budget is announced at the end of the month. End
Comment.


DIFFILY


[Source: WikiLeaks]

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