This week, Opposition Leader Johnny Briceño called on the Barrow administration to withdraw the preventative detention proposals that could see suspects detained for up to 21 days, and longer with court approval, without having a single charge being read to them.
The proposals have been controversial, and Prime Minister Dean Barrow has himself admitted that they are, in his own words, draconian. Barrow told us that he has even been threatened over the preventative detention proposals.
There was an occasion when he had to increase security at his house after a threat was “texted” to him; now intermediaries have come forward to say that a known gang leader has made it plain that if Barrow proceeds with this measure, “things” will happen to him, Barrow told Amandala.
“It was not as if though this was a course that, speaking for myself, I embarked on lightly,” said Barrow, speaking of pursuing the preventative detention proposals.
The indiscriminate killings of two Chinese women in one weekend, said Barrow, had put an exclamation point on the fact that Belize is not making progress in dealing with the crime situation. Recently, there was a lull in murders, but somebody was murdered last night, Barrow said in speaking with us on Wednesday.
“We still believe that drastic measures are called for,” he affirmed.
On Wednesday, Barrow told us that Cabinet has agreed to put the proposals on hold. After widespread consultations, said Barrow, his administration will make a final decision on whether to continue pressing ahead with the proposal.
To date, no draft legislation explaining the details of how preventative detention would work has been made public. In May, the Barrow administration merely tabled the constitutional amendments that would pave the way for preventative detention legislation later on. Now, the constitutional amendment, said Barrow, has been “put in the refrigerator.”
Amandala asked Barrow to explain the reason for putting the preventative detention proposals on hold. He told us that starting this Friday, July 22, they are going to be concentrating on the constitutional amendment to enshrine Belizean (public) majority ownership of the Belize Telemedia Limited, the Belize Electricity Limited, and the Belize Water Services Limited into the Constitution.
This, said Barrow, will require the usual public consultation process, and the House committee, led by UDP chairman Patrick Faber, will go around the country for that purpose.
“For us, that is number 1 now,” said Barrow, “and we believe that if we try to run parallel tracks with respect of preventative detention that would be counterproductive.”
Barrow said that of the package of three crime measures, his administration has so far accomplished two, the biggest one, in his view, being eliminating trials with jury for cases of murder and attempted murder. They have also introduced a provision in law that will mean that a person convicted of murder cannot get automatic bail on appealing the conviction.
“This third change [preventative detentions],” said Barrow, “requires a constitutional change; and it is something that I have to concede is an interference with individual liberty as we know it.”
When the consultation process is finished, said Barrow, they will decide whether to take the preventative detention proposals out of the “fridge” or whether to take it completely off the table.
He said that he will measure the success of the crime measures by the statistical outcomes.
“Certainly,” said Barrow, “I would want to see over the next let’s say 120 days, to give ourselves as much time as is needed to carry out public consultations; [I] would want to see a decrease of the murder rate [in]... the second half of the year.”
He said that he would also like to see an increase in the conviction rate.
“I would certainly want to see an increase in the success of security forces in terms of getting guns off the street and securing convictions for guns,” Barrow added.
“Trial by judge alone will prove to be a boon in terms of securing convictions...” he commented.
We told the Prime Minister that some people have said judges can also be, and some of them have actually been, threatened.
To this, he said that whereas they can provide full-time police security for judges, they cannot provide this service for the 12 jurors who would sit on those cases.
“They [judges] are like me, public officials, but there is a certain degree of risk inherent with job description. I don’t want to sound unfeeling at all, and I’ve already indicated to judges, you can get 24-hour protection,” said Barrow.