Musa, Said (1944–)

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Musa, Said (1944–)

Said Musa (b. March 19, 1944) has been prime minister of Belize since 1998. In the national election of March 5, 2003, Musa became the first of all incumbent prime ministers to lead his party, the People's United Party (PUP), to victory since Belize gained independence in 1981. The fourth of eight children of Hamid Musa and Aurora Gibbs, he grew up in San Ignacio, in the Cayo District of western Belize. He is half Palestinian on his father's side (his father emigrated from El Bireh near Ramallah in 1930) and a combination of Scottish and Maya on his mother's. After attending primary school in San Ignacio, the family moved to Belize City, where Said distinguished himself as a student at the Jesuit-run St. John's College.

Musa studied law at Manchester University in the United Kingdom, graduating with an honors degree in law, and was called to the bar at Gray's Inn, London. While there he met and married Joan Pearson and started a family. Returning to Belize in 1967, he served as circuit magistrate and as a crown counsel in the Office of Public Prosecutions. His concern with the well-being of civil servants led to his election as president of the Public Service Union.

Musa entered private practice, first with Assad Shoman, and subsequently with Lawrence "Ronnie" Balderamos, founding the law firm of Musa and Balderamos in 1970. With Evan X. Hyde, he became an activist in the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), and in the early 1970s he and Assad Shoman founded the People's Action Committee (PAC) and the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR).

Musa's long political career began when he joined the PUP and ran for office of the National Assembly in 1974. Although he lost, Premier George Price appointed him senator for the 1974–1979 term. In 1979 he defeated the chief opposition leader, Dean Lindo, of the United Democratic Party (UDP), winning the Fort George constituency, which he retains. He was appointed attorney general, minister of education and sports, and, later, minister of foreign affairs and minister of economic development during two periods of PUP domination, 1979–1984 and 1989–1993. He was a key figure in drafting the Belize constitution of 1981.

In 1996 Musa succeeded George Price as leader of the PUP and led his party to victories in elections on August 27, 1998, and on March 5, 2003. Once in office he made foreign affairs and political reform his top priorities. In January 2000 his government approved the establishment of the University of Belize. Seeking a second consecutive mandate, he campaigned on a slogan of "no turning back," promising to create 20,000 new jobs and to give locals access to the same investment incentives as foreigners. At his swearing in for a second term, he stated that economic and social development would continue to be the main thrust of his government and promised to improve access to and quality of education.

Since 2004 the Musa government has been mired down in a series of domestic controversies. On March 23, 2004, his government made the fateful decision to sell 15 percent of its 52 percent share in Belize Telecommunications Ltd. to ECOM Ltd., a Carlisle Company, for US$14.5 million. The government was to retain three seats on the board. Innovative Communication, owned by Jeffrey Prosser, agreed to purchase the government's remaining shares in BTL for US$89 million. In November 2004 Forbes magazine reported that Prosser was in Washington, D.C., trying to stave off creditors and regulators. After Prosser defaulted on his payment to the government of Belize, the prime minister announced he was taking back BTL on February 10, 2005. Protests about these scandals championed by the opposition party turned violent in April 2005, sabotaging the telecommunications system and causing other damage.

Continuing problems with BTL, investigations off misconduct involving the Social Security Board and the Development Finance Corporation, and poor economic performance prompted Standard and Poor and Moodys to downgrade Belize's credit rating. On October 1, 2005, the IMF expressed concern that the country's fiscal and external deficits remained unsustainably high. This growing economic crisis had a political toll when the opposition UDP party won 64 of 67 seats in two cities and seven towns in the municipal elections of March 2, 2006. Adding to this gloomy news was a report from the International Narcotics Control Strategy, which complained that Belize continued to be a transshipment point in the cocaine trade.

On September 21, 2006, Belize celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary of political independence. Prime Minister Musa announced that his government was implementing a complex package of fiscal, monetary, and financial sector reforms. With national elections looming in 2008, the best news of the year came on January 11, 2007, when Belize began its first crude old exports to the United States. However, civil unrest boiled over again on May 18 because of strong objections to the government's move to settle a US$33 million debt for Universal Health Services with public monies. Musa fired two members of his cabinet their for lack of support of the proposed settlement. With further protests in the offing, the payoff plan was abandoned. On July 1 the PUP held its national convention in Corozal. Musa promised to take the fight to each of the thirty-one constituencies in the 2008 election.

See alsoBelize .

BIBLIOGRAPHY "Twenty Questions—The January Interview with Prime Minister Hon. Said Musa." January 2004. Available from

Conway, Janelle Conway. "Looking for Balance in Belize: Celebrating its First Twenty-Five Years." Amerícas (English ed.) 58, no. 6 (November-December 2006): 10-18.

Smith, Godfrey P., ed. Belize: A Caribbean Nation in Central America: Selected Speeches of Said Musa. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle, 2006.

                                       Brian E. Coutts