SAY NO TO THE 9th AMENDMENT
I have listened to and read all the arguments concerning the 9th Amendment and I have decided that I am opposed for several reasons.
The Amendment is supposed to make it law that the GOB shall have a controlling interest in our public utilities as they are vital for national security. However this proposed amendment targets only a few specific companies while leaving others untouched. BTL is to be nationalized but not SMART. BEL is to be nationalized but BELCON that owns the Chalillo hydro plant that has the same owner as BEL, as well as other smaller producers, are left untouched. The Petroleum industry, which is arguably vital to national security, is also left untouched. Based on this I do not believe the Amendment accomplishes its stated goals and appears to only target some individual companies while ignoring others in the same sector. This amendment would seem to be a form of discrimination as it targets certain entities. It is a very dangerous precedent to set as well as being obviously unfair regardless of how we may feel about the entities in question. This Amendment seems reactionary in that it is in response to a particular situation and not a statement of deeply felt guiding principles, considering that the P.M. had previously said that Nationalization was not on the table and in fact violates the principles of equal treatment under law and basic fairness upon which our society is based. The 9th Amendment should not be passed and it should never have been tabled.
Although I have long been in favor of nationalizing our public utilities the debate surrounding this amendment has forced me to reexamine my position. I, along with much of the public, feel that I am being charged more for electricity and telephone and gasoline than is fair. I also know that the BTL policy blocking phone calls by Internet retards business and adds cost to some phone bills. For some time I believed that nationalization would cure those problems. These are some of the same reasons the government wants to nationalize them. That was a rather naÔve position considering that the government took over BTL and did not change the policy of blocking calls and did not lower rates. Private sector is always more efficient than public sector and the same will hold true operating these utilities. I am now convinced that nationalizing is not the answer. We simply need better regulation of these industries. Right now they thumb their noses at us and we over-react by amending our sacred constitution to nationalize them when competition and meaningful regulation is the real answer. I would like to think all the lawyers in Parliament could come up with something to control the utilities besides nationalizing them. I am at this time opposed to the nationalization of the utilities because we have not exhausted all the possible means of regulating them through legislation and court actions when required.
Much of the problem with BEL comes from not having transparent costs. We are paying profit to BELCON and BEL both for the same domestically produced energy even though both are owned by the same entity namely Fortis. With the passage of Amendment 9 this situation would remain basically unchanged from the consumers viewpoint and will not lower our rates or give better service. Nationalization had no positive effect on our telephone bills or Internet access, which the UN has declared a basic human right. For this reason also I am opposed to the 9th Amendment.
The last reason I am opposed to the 9th Amendment is the 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about. I am referring to the shear size of the Belize government. Our government has grown to where it consumes at least 3/4ths of our entire national production. There are 18 different Ministries and 52 different departments listed in the phone directory. We have a population of around 320,000 almost half of which are children. That is one government department for every 6,000 people. We must all remember that the government is a non-profit organization. It makes no money and exists by financing it obtains primarily from private sector in the form of taxes. The government has become a drain on our society and undertaking that makes it any larger than it is should not be considered. It is difficult to imagine that if the government were to operate the utilities that the jobs would not be distributed in the usual way, to friends and relatives of the party in power, regardless of whether or not the utility operation was paying their salaries. Right now recurrent expenses eat up more than 3/4ths of the budget. For this reason also, I am opposed to the 9th Amendment.
In good faith public consultations should come before the government adopts a particular position not after they have decided upon a policy. Had these consultations taken place before the Amendment was written we would have saved a lot of time and money and we, as a nation working together, would have probably been able to find a better solution to this problem and many other problems we face.
Since the government has opened the door on the constitutional amendment issue, I would like to recommend two amendments the first of which deals with the utility companies. The doctrine of free competition and no monopolies needs to be embedded in our laws. Agreements that exempt a utility from taxes and guarantee profits hold back competition and economic development for the benefit of a few. I would propose an amendment that outlaws monopolies and somehow throws out all existing Accommodation Agreements and makes any such future agreements illegal, as this seems to be part of the BTL problem. Agreements entered into by the government should naturally be challengeable by the people in a court of law as not being in the public interest. What other recourse do we have?
The second amendment that I propose deals with how we change the constitution. Our constitution should contain the requirement that no amendment to the constitution shall be considered as passed unless it has been approved by a 2/3 majority of the registered electors in a national referendum. Also by national referendum the people should have the right to choose to rewrite the constitution from top to bottom. Our system of government places too much power in the hands of too few people and we should evolve a system of checks and balances that strengthens both the independence of the courts and the rights of the people to participate in the system. The people of Belize are 100% capable of making these constitutional decisions for themselves. Currently most all the power lies in the combined executive and legislative branches. That is not healthy for any democracy considering that all governments worldwide take more power than they are entitled too and wait to be challenged or not.
The government has talked the talk now it is time to walk the walk. This government and the Prime Minister can be recorded in the history of Belize as the group of patriots that enfranchised the Belize people or not, depending on the outcome. We need a constitutional amendment to give the power and say over our constitution to the people rather than it being in the hands of a particular political party. We all know that the concept of the National Assembly representing the people is simply not true. Ultimately all power over the constitution should reside in the people, not the parties or the Parliament.
Since the GOB has cancelled our consultation here in San Pedro I hope they will read this and understand that it reflects the opinion of many other San Pedranos. As you all may well imagine we feel very slighted at having our consultation cancelled considering our contribution to our country. It is not fair and we are tired of the shabby treatment.
Edited by Mike Campbell (09/25/11 12:35 AM)