The House of Representatives met today in Belmopan to debate and vote on an entire raft of new legislative measures that were introduced two weeks ago.
Foremost among them were the amendments to the Crime Control and Criminal Justice Amendment Bill - which seeks to update to current legislation in a few meaningful ways.
The Prime Minister explained and a quite heated debate got started after that:..
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"The way the law is currently structured the minister needs the concurrence of the Crimes Control Council. Crimes Control Council Mr. Speaker has been defunct for a number of years and so to try to get them together to give the minister that concurrence that he needed proved very difficult indeed. There was a question of whether the members were even still validly in place. What we are doing is to say now that the minister will have to get hence forth the concurrence of the National Security Council of this country. In addition to that we are giving the minister rather more flexibility under this bill to have the declaration lasts for a longer period in each 24 hours."
Hon. Said Musa
"We may be trampling on the fundamental rights and freedoms of people in this country. Under this law Mr. Speaker the security forces can: 1) search any homes, any vehicle, any person without a warrant, seize and take away any vehicle or anything for that matter, any article, arrest any person upon suspicion that is having committed or is about to commit a crime, cordon off these so
called special areas that are declared by the minister, preventing persons from moving in or moving out of the area. These are very wide sweeping powers Mr. Speaker giving to the security forces and although the law talks about acting in a manner that is reasonably justified we all know that there are many cases where excessive force is used and abused against citizens."
"Indeed now Mr. Speaker the other proposed amendment is that no longer should it be confined to one square mile, it's unlimited, so tomorrow is the Prime Minister and his colleagues are so mindful they can declare the whole of Belize City a special area. In fact they can go further; they can declare the whole country of Belize a special area - a crime ridden country. This is what they seem to want the power to do now."
Hon. John Saldivar
"Finally I think we are finding some ways of dealing with the crime problem - he says we will never be able to deal with the crime problem. Well since we have implemented the crime ridden strategy - major crime in Belize City has gone down by 38%. That is why we have now taken a second look at the crime ridden area law to see how we can improve on it because we believe we are on to something and we want to improve on it so that we can give the police these powers that we are talking about to make it even better and finally when we find a strategy that can work, here we have the Opposition getting up and opposing something that is working. I guess they want us to be between the rock and a hard place - damn if you do and damn if you don't but we are going to continue doing what we are doing to bring crime down."
After debate, the bill was approved by the House and it now goes to the Senate.