Last Friday, the debate often got testy in the House of Representatives. There were nine bills that were tabled and passed; three of them dealt with the pressing crime situation. Because of the volume of news, we did not report on the Families and Children Bill which extends the categories of circumstances in which the Family Court or a magistrate’s court could impose supervision or care orders for the protection and welfare of children. That is because many of the crimes are being committed by minors who are influenced by gangs. The other bills called the Criminal Code and the Crime Control and Criminal Justice sought to increase penalties for violent crime and to strengthen punishment against crimes related to criminal gangs. It was a tough argument as the ruling party could not sell it to the three opposition members in attendance who felt the measures weren’t enough, given the poor conviction rate handed down at the courts.
“This bill is about trying to get off the streets the small minority of juveniles of children that are being recruited by gang leaders to participate in shootings and in fact, in murders. We don’t have a number, but this problem is principally in Belize City and we are not talking about more than fifty kids, a hundred, if so many. And that is the mischief—that is what it is that we are trying to do here—ensure there is the infrastructure to deal with getting those children off the streets.”
Said Musa, Area Rep., Fort George
“I have looked through the entire bill Mister Speaker—clause by clause, word by word. I don’t find anything in this bills that strengthens the punishment against crimes relating to criminal gangs—absolutely nothing. So why are we using these highfaluting, grandstanding opening lines in a bill when the effect of it does no such thing. What in fact this amendment does, Mister Speaker, is to open a back door to introduce preventative detention of persons accused of committing a crime. It does not deal with strengthening punishment against criminals.”
John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition
“And I agree with the representative from Fort George. We just can’t just legislate away criminal activities, it’s not just about passing laws, but about addressing the social issues and challenges that we are facing as a nation. And until we can address those issues Mister Speaker, we could pass a hundred more laws or a thousand more laws and they are still going to have the random criminal acts that is happening in Belize City. I went to visit the family of the late Eyannie, the little young girl, and I went to the house personally and it breaks my heart to see how the people in Southside Belize City are living.”
Michael Finnegan, Minister of Housing
“He was so alarmed and he went on to elaborate like, my goodness look how the people on the Southside are living. Like this happen two years ago. You were there for ten years and could have injected initiatives, ideas and new veins into the Southside and you noh do anything, but the way how you say it Mister Leader of the Opposition like you just gone deh and you went to sympathize with these people and when you look around in the Southside; oh my goodness what is happening here, you make it sound like this government deh yah fi fifty years and you travel in the Southside and all of a sudden the Southside di bruk down, everybody got gun ina deh hand, everybody di eat out ah milk pan etc. Come on, Mister Leader of the Opposition, all I am saying you were there for ten years and don’t make it sound like the people on the south side are living the way they are living just two years.”