Special Sitting For Madam President
Yesterday, we took you to the Philip Goldson Airport for the official welcome that the Government of Belize gave to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen. She arrived on her first official visit here to an entourage of Government and law enforcement officials who were determined to see to it that her short stay would be pleasing and memorable as a head of state.
She left from the airport and immediately headed to a suite of activities, including the award ceremony for the latest crop of Belizean students who would be going away to study in Taiwan.
But, the biggest event of her official visit happened this morning when both the Senate and the House of Representatives convened for a special sitting. Our news team was there, and Daniel Ortiz reports:
A few minutes before the start of today’s special event, the majority of the parliamentarians from both the House of Representatives and the Senate were already seated in the House, awaiting the arrival of the Taiwanese President.
One of the last to arrive was Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who walked up the National Assembly steps and greeted the Belmopan Mayor, who appeared to be anticipating the arrival of today’s special guest.
And when President Wen’s vehicular entourage pulled up on Independence Hill, the many security personnel became active, making sure that she could safely enter the House.
At the top of the stairs, Mayor Khalid Belisle cordially greeted the President, and presented her with a small token.
By then, the entire National Assembly and the gallery already knew that she was in the building, and both the House Speaker and the Senate President went out to escort her in.
First to greet her at the entrance were both Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Opposition Leader John Briceño.
The other parliamentarians spotted her shortly after that, and she walked into the main chamber to a warm welcome.
Minutes later, everyone took their seat, and as the guest of honor, President Wen was given the center seat, which is usually reserved for the House Speaker or the Senate President, both of whom took their positions on her right and left flank.
The house was called to order, and Prime Minister Barrow was the first to formally welcome the President to the National Assembly, an occurrence that was very rare.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"On behalf of all the members of the national assembly madam president and indeed on behalf of the entire nation of Belize it gives me the greatest pleasure to welcome you to our capital city of Belmopan to our famed Independence Hill and of course to this national assembly. This is a joint sitting of the House of Representatives and of the senate convened especially in your honour. I hope I am not miss-recollecting but I don't think this happened more than one time in the past, certainly not more than two."
Shortly after that, the Prime Minister took his seat conceded the floor to President Wen, so that she address to the National Assembly. It became immediately apparent that she was very fluent in the English language.
Hon. Dr. Tsai Ing Wen - President of Taiwan
"Yesterday, my first day in Belize I was very moved by the warm reception the people of Belize extended upon our arrival. It was touching to visit Taiwan Street where our embassy stands and be reminder of the friendship that has brought our two peoples closer together. I was especially pleased to have a chance to meet with young Belizeans and to offer 29 scholarships the most ever for their studies in Taiwan."
From there, the President reflected on the very long friendship between Belize and Taiwan, and the tangible expressions of that relationship that currently exists.
Hon. Dr. Tsai Ing Wen
"Belize has accomplished a lot over its history for which the people of Belize should be woefully proud and the Republic of China Taiwan is so pleased to have played a part in support of that. I'm sure our work here has been felt by the distinguished members of the chamber. In Belize City the Taiwan technical mission has worked with local partners to revitalizing historical quarters which would benefit tourism and the preservation of history. We are supporting efforts by the institute for technical, vocational and education training to improve vocational training for young people. An essential farm agriculture station which is just a short distance from here where engaging with your farmers to introduce new agriculture produce and improve Belize's livestock and across the country our practitioners are working to strengthen the capabilities of the Belize Health Information system."
The President also had a special announcement of even more help that her country will be providing to Belize
Hon. Dr. Tsai Ing Wen
"I'm pleased to announce here that further to increasing the number of Taiwan scholarships students for Belize which we have started improvement, we will also be inviting young Belizeans for short term vocational training programs in Taiwan (Applause from house). My administration has announced we will providing 520 vacancies to talented young individuals from across our diplomatic allies and for young people that are unable to come to Taiwan, we are also working with ITVET to improve their teaching facilities and the quality of their training programs here. Taiwan is also prepared to make more investment in Belize agriculture industry and infrastructure. Furthermore many members of my delegations are from the business sector and I will be personally Belize's biggest advocate in encouraging them to set up their operations here."
And if you're wondering why Taiwan - a nation that has already been very generous to Belize - is willing to provide more aid and technical assistance, the President said, that Belize's friendship with her country is invaluable on the international stage.
Hon. Dr. Tsai Ing Wen
"Despite the great geographic differences between our 2 countries Belize remains close to our hearts. The Republic of China Taiwan is committed to supporting the national development of Belize as a friend and partner. We believe in the great potential of Belizean people and all that you are disdained to accomplish. In the international community Belize has also been an outspoken supporter for Taiwan. From the heart of the United Nations to different forums and organizations from around the world, Belize has acted as a voice for the international aspirations of the 23 million people of Taiwan. At a time of great political pressure against Taiwan's international space, you have spoken for the rights and obligations of Taiwan as a member of the international community. On behalf of the people of Taiwan I want to express my sincere gratitude for Belize's effort and thank you for your unwavering support and friendship."
At close of her address, Prime Minister Barrow injected a small bit of comic relief, softening the tone of today’s ceremony
Rt. Hon Dean Barrow
"Madam President Dr. Tsai, it's been a short visit but there has been already very many delightful aspects to the visit and I was treated to an additional one when you spoke. I had already said to you when we met in my office that I was so much impressed by your fluency in English, I told you that I thought you speak English better than I do. Well I listened to you a while ago you're able to add to your trophies the fact that you also speak Spanish than I do (Laughter from the house). I gather this from the excellent way in which you pronounced the name of the leader of the opposition, complete with rolling R and tilde, Briceño. I have great difficulty doing it, madam have the advantage over me."
And just like that, the Special Sitting of the House and Senate concluded, and delegations from both Belize and Taiwan went off to other private events on the itinerary of the President’s official visit to Belize.
The last time there was a Special Sitting of the House and Senate, to welcome a visiting head of State, was back in May of 2009. Prime Minister Barrow and his administration welcomed the then Taiwanese President, Ma Ying-Jeou.