The Senate met today, Monday, and passed amendments to the Environmental Tax Act and the Evidence Act, as well as over $150,000 in write-off motions passed up from the House of Representatives following its sitting on Friday, December 16.
The write-offs, reportedly due to damage to government vehicles, were a point of debate, as senators raised concerns over the lack of clarity on exactly what was being written off, and whether there was any salvage value at all in the vehicles.
As detailed in the House on Friday, the write-offs were for $13,593, $8,300, $10,728, $16,196, $3,614, $75,000, and $23,500.
Private Sector Senator Godwin Hulse told Amandala that they are expecting more information when the Audit Department report reaches the Senate. Is somebody getting the vehicles? Hulse said they do not know.
He noted the fact that the government does not carry insurance. In one case where it was not the government driver’s fault that the vehicle was damaged, the insurance company of the driver at fault paid $20,000 and Government was required to write off the other $23,000. The explanation provided to Parliament was that the Attorney General’s ministry didn’t think it useful to pursue the matter in court because the person could not pay, Hulse reported, disagreeing with Government’s decision not to get a court ruling—if only for the record.
There were also concerns raised over the text of the amendment to the Evidence Act, which seeks to provide for certain public officers in the Belize National Forensic Science Service and the Scenes of Crime Unit to be made government experts, so they can submit reports as prima facie evidence to the courts.
Opposition Senators Lisa Shoman and Arthur Saldivar suggested that the term “government expert” should be replaced with “expert,” because such an expert should be neutral. They also said that the law should also include stipulations that would permit others acting in substantive posts, such as the deputies, to be able to submit reports as evidence when their superiors are not in office.
Leader of Government Business Doug Singh said he agreed, but the changes in the law had to be made urgently. He said that the proposed clarifications could be made via subsequent order.
Whereas there was some dissent over that bill, there was unanimous support in the Senate today for the change to the Environmental Tax Act, which eliminates the 2% tax on CARICOM imports—a change which parliamentarians said will also benefit Belize, which would get a boost for its red beans sold to the Caribbean.
Senators said the bill was “long overdue” and “makes Belizean beans much more competitive.”
Also passed were the International Limited Liability Company Bill, the Trade Licensing (Amendment) Bill and the Coast Guard (Amendment) Bill.
Senator Hulse takes the view that that Trade Licensing Act is unconstitutional because the government ought not to be able to refuse a person the license to trade once they comply with the rules, as it contravenes one’s right to earn a living.
The new bill makes further provisions for the forfeiture of trade licenses in certain instances. The Opposition and Private Sector senators were concerned that people could be losing their livelihoods because of offenses under acts that are still undergoing review and therefore, indiscriminate punishments could be created for businesspeople.
Singh said that in the event that a business loses a license, it could apply again, but that approval is granted at the discretion of the board.
On the matter of this bill, the Opposition called for a division on the vote. The five government senators present voted in favor. The private sector senator and the 3 Opposition senators voted against. There was no senator present for the churches or the unions.
Senator Juliet Thimbriel acted as president for today’s sitting. Amandala