At Friday’s sitting of the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced a dangerous amendment to the constitution that is also being described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. On the heels of the nationalization of B.E.L. and the re-nationalization of Telemedia, the PM made it clear that measures would be implemented to enshrine in the constitution, the government’s control of public utilities. Last Friday, the bill was introduced but the wording used by Barrow allows for much more than barring challenges to government’s control of utilities. It extends to any challenge to any amendment to the constitution. The reaction has been swift and many members of the legal profession are coming forward against the proposal. According to attorney Oscar Sabido, it is a matter of national emergency to stop dead in its tracks the proposed amendment.
Oscar Sabido, Attorney
“Section two of the constitution is the section that declares that the constitution is the supreme law of the land and that any law which is inconsistent with the constitution is void. That section is now being amended to say that any amendment to the constitution cannot be deemed to being inconsistent with the constitution. An amendment to the constitution in this case is the amendment to constitution that provides for the entry into the constitution as new sections to the constitution that provide for the acquisition of public utilities in Belize. And the acquisition of public utilities in Belize is an amendment to the constitution cannot be questioned or deemed to be inconsistent with the constitution as set out in section two. Any other can be entered into the constitution and it could fall under this particular amendment to the constitution which says that whilst it is an amendment to the constitution, it is adding in acquisitions of any kind—be it oil, any other industry; you cannot question it. And your rights to go the court is now nonexistent in respect of that particular acquisition. It is an abrogation of the fundamental pillar of our democracy which is the rule of law and the supreme law of the land being the constitution. The constitution is the supreme law of the land because it has entrenched in the constitution set out in section 69 because the constitution provides the rights and freedoms and privileges; the rights to redress to the courts cannot be change except by going under section 69. But now because of the amendment, if you go ahead and change by amendment to the constitution, anything you wish to put in the constitution, preventive detention, then it can be said that that cannot be challenged in a court of law. That particular law will not be challenged because it will become part of the constitution itself. Now the constitution is being used to soak in anything the government wants to put in there. And then because of this ninth amendment, then it cannot be questioned. The right of redress, under section twenty is being taken away. You cannot go to a court of law and question it. Just like how this is saying you cannot question the right as to government’s acquisition of public utilities. It is absolute; it can’t be question. It’s final. You cannot bring up the question of natural justice.”
“Is this something that the bar association should be considering as quickly as possible?”
“It’s actually in my opinion a matter of emergency.”
Sabido says that the issue should be dealt with by all people who are concerned with the rights and liberties of the individuals, especially the rights of redress to the courts. This proposed amendment would erode the principles of the independence of the court to determine issues that are entrenched in the constitution.