Sonia Warner, SRO, DFID.

Belize was my second posting (2001-2004), where I served as Development Secretary in the British High Commission in Belmopan, reporting to DFID Caribbean. When I applied for the job, colleagues joked that I was going to DFID Convalesces! The programme was small and insignificant in the wider scheme of DFID’s global engagement and we were actually in the process of office closure.

I applied for the job shortly after returning from maternity leave, realising that it was extremely challenging to work and raise a young family in London. I felt I was entitled to do both and therefore selected a job which would enabled me to achieve both objectives. It was a good decision, as we lived a stone’s throw from the office, which meant I was able to go home for lunch every day and spend time with my kids. 

Sonia's story published back then in Belize

At the end of this posting Prime Minister Said Musa invited me to lunch to thank me for my service to the country. This was a serious OMG moment!  Several Government Ministers were at my leaving party, but even more humbling was the fact the colleagues cross the border from Guatemala to attend. It was a very proud moment in my career.  I thought, gosh I must be doing something right.

Belize is a small, but extremely “deep” society and the only English speaking country in Central America.  It is naturally beautiful with vast wildlife and archeological sites – the famous Mayan Ruins: (Lamanai Archaeological Reserve and Xunantunich Mayan Ruin); beautiful Caye Caulker and road trips to Guatemala and Mexico kept us extremely busy.  I would love to revisit as I still have great friends there.

But the politics like most places was extremely complex and dominated by Michael Ashcroft  KCMG, the former Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party with extensive investments in Belize; recipient of huge tax exemptions from the Belizean Government and major financier of the UK Conservative Party.  This understandably affected Belize’s suitability for debt relief under the Commonwealth Debt Initiative, which required UK Ministerial approval. At that time, the UK had a Labour Government with Claire Short as the Secretary of State for International Development, which meant relations were tense to say the least.    Much of my time was spent working through various political wrangles, but more importantly this was my first exposure to working at the centre of Government and understanding the mindset of politicians and the challenges of corruption. 

There was certainly no time to convalesce, but there was time to craft a particular style of engaging  politically, working closely with Government Ministers on a regular basis.  I demonstrated the ability to gain the trust and confidence of high level political players. I am always frank and to the point in my exchanges.  I was able to gain the respect of a wide cross section of people in Belize to the highest level.  But my “Thank You” Lunch with Prime Minister Musa was indeed a great honour and tribute to my time spent there.