REPORT #6 1998
March 16, 1998

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

Belize is still in the throes of debate about Constitutional changes. With the public clamoring for Constitutional change and the two major Westminster style political parties resisting anything but cosmetic tinkering to the current Colonial based Constitution, of fairly recent Independent Belize.

It is interesting to compare and note, that this weekend in the Miami Herald there is an update on the progress of the Constitutional Change Commission for the State of Florida, from the various committees.

Florida of course has been around a lot longer than Belize in a self governing mode. For at least a 150 years, numerous Constitutional Changes have taken place and both the procedure and process are organized and recognized as useful. Previous changes to the Florida Constitution have taken place in different historical eras, to modify the results to the cultural and technological changes being currently experienced by a growing population and changing times.

This particular Constitutional change for the State Government of Florida is due to go to the public ballot in November of this year.

In Belize of course, this is the first time the public have clamored for changes in the Constitution of the country since Independence. What worries the two major political party leaders in Belize, is that the whole process is facing the UNKNOWN. They fear change, they fear loss of power, they fear a political system that might dilute the opportunity for individual plunder from the controlling position of a reasonably Empire style, Roman plunder and exploitation model political system.

None of these fears are valid, as the politics in Florida show. Politicians still run for office, still plunder the system for personal gain.

In Florida there are now 44 proposals that have survived the early process of Constitutional Change debate and selection. The Commission now must decide which of these 44 proposals they are going to kill, which to alter and which to keep as is.

For a proposal to survive the selection process and be presented to the voters for a ballot in November of this year in Florida, they have to win the votes of 3/5's of the commission. There are 37 members and 22 votes will select those winning proposals.

Once this process goes forward, the next item on the agenda is to figure out how to package the surviving proposals into a slimmed down presentation that can fit on a ballot paper, for the public to vote on in November.

There are proposals on gun ownership, school districts re-alignment, the proposal on who is going to pay for most of the costs for the state court system, the proposal that criminals must serve 85% of their sentences before release, and so on.

This Constitutional Change is done every 20 years in the State of Florida.

From this, we can surmise, Belize is now overdue for it's own Constitutional Change. We can learn from others how to go through this experience. It is nothing to be afraid of.

The situation on balloting by the public should raise some eyebrows in the country of Belize. Probably, before any overwhelming Constitutional Change can be done, the machinery in which to effect changes in legislation and Constitutional Change must be installed. So in Belize, first and foremost, a Constitutional Amendment to the Elections and Boundaries Commission organization must first be passed. There is no provision for annual, or semi-annual balloting in the country of Belize.

There is a need for District balloting to cover the rural areas in a given district, that are outside of villages and towns. Then balloting provision specifically for villages and towns, and lastly balloting for national issues.

Usually, both County and city governments in the State of Florida, also have local issues that must be placed on a ballot and the different tiers of local government will get their items included on any such ballot in November, since that is the only one being called at this time. There may be County government bond issues, sales taxes changes and other issues, each county and town in Florida with different things.

When a ballot is being called by any level of government, this gives an opportunity for other levels of government to include items for balloting and the vote, both locally and on a wider geographical area. The items will differ from place to place, within the state of Florida. The final ballot in November will not only have the State Constitutional changes on it, but also in each and every County, some local issues and probably many of the cities and towns will also wish to place some local issues on the ballot also.

The actual ballots could be separated depending on the number of items, or if there are few, they would be all on one ballot. A voter citizen will be voting on State Constitutional changes, some County and Town issues all at the same time, with possibly up to 25 or more items to vote on.

In Belize, this idea of democracy, in which the voters get to vote on different issues that in particular cost money, is a novel idea in Belize. It just does not happen at present. The concept of a working democracy is uniquely an American one; whereas in the Belize system, the idea is that you democratically elect dictators and these tell the citizen what to do. It is a different approach to democracy. One is participatory, the other is autocratic dictatorial.

In order to arrange for a more participatory democracy in Belize, which gives a more orderly flow to progress and change, by involving the citizens in the policy making, the Elections and Boundaries Commission needs the schedule outlined and power to call these ballots for individual districts in Belize and even individual towns and villages under some form of Constitutional and Legislative regulation.

There is for instance, no provision for Belizean citizen voters to petition for legislative change, with a time limit by the constitution, that such a ballot on a qualifying petition be called and voted on within a given period of time. In California, cities, towns and using Belize Districts as a comparison; the petition would have to represent the signatures of 5% of the number of voters that actually voted in the LAST election for smaller local geographical issues. For larger national legislative petitions, the percentage of signatures would be only 2% of the actual voters that voted in the last national election. The time limit from presentation of such a petition for a ballot is between 90 and 120 days, depending on the different states.

Nor does Belize at present have in the Belize Constitution provision for petitions, plebiscites and referendums at village, town, city , District and National level issues.

These first things must be included in the Belize Constitution NOW, before any serious other work can be concluded on overall Constitutional change. Without the mechanics of being able to Constitutionally do things, with powers for the Elections and Boundary Commission so set out, we are not going anywhere. First things first! An Amendment to the current Constitution is required to lay the groundwork to make it possible to bring in more participatory democracy via the machinery at all levels of local government and national government through the process of the Elections and Boundary Commission.

There are those that will insist that such a thing is too expensive. Not so, show the examples from within the many states of the USA. In Florida, people that run the balloting in the local school, park building office, or community center in Florida are usually hired on a temporary basis and paid by the hour for the day or two required to set up for a ballot and voting process. In some poverty stricken states, such people are all volunteer. I was present at such a ballot in New Hampshire and everyone there was a volunteer. In Belize we can also do this by volunteers. New Hampshire is a hard scrabble state of rocks and trees with a small population and little, or no industry and a very small narrow tax base that is insufficient to run much government. So most of government is done by volunteerism.

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