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Amendments to enshrine govt ownership utilities #412300
07/22/11 08:19 AM
07/22/11 08:19 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 75,847
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

Constitutional amendments to enshrine government ownership of utilities

This Friday, the government is convening a sitting of the House of Representatives. It is a special sitting at which the Prime Minister will get House approval to change the constitution to entrench control of utilities. Firstly, having nationalized and then re-nationalized Telemedia in a span of twenty-two months and nationalized Belize Electricity Limited a month ago, through its super majority in the House, government will amend the supreme law of the land for it to “at all times have majority ownership and control of public utilities.” The remaining wording of the proposed amendment is worrisome. It reads that the Bill will “clarify the provisions relating to the amendment of the Constitution and to safeguard the independence and integrity of the legislative process.” From what the Prime Minister said on Wednesday, he will not only legislate ownership of utilities, but is going further to secure protection against any legal challenge to the ownership of utilities. Secondly, it’s the ninth amendment to the constitution that is being proposed, and organizations such as the Human Rights Commission are wary and say that constitutional changes should not be carried out as a knee jerk reactions.

Channel 5

Re: Amendments to enshrine govt ownership utilities [Re: Marty] #412350
07/23/11 08:19 AM
07/23/11 08:19 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 75,847
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

Marty  Offline OP

A Constitutional Amendment To Preserve Utilities in Public Hands

The Ninth Amendment to the Constitution was tabled today in the House of Representatives. It comes out of June's double nationalizations of Telemedia and BEL - and seeks to forever cement public majority ownership and control of Utilities.

It also seeks to place the nationalizations on an unchallengeable footing - meaning that no matter which court says what - no private ownership group can ever again re-assume majority control of public utilities.

The idea was first floated publicly by two leading members of the opposition, Senior Deputies Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde three weeks ago - and from there it was wholly embraced by the government as a landmark endeavor. That in itself is a little piece of history, and the Government side called the proposed amendment the greatest achievement of Belizeans nationalism since independence. Here are the remarks from the Prime Minister:

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"Once this bill is passed, from now on and forever the government and people must own 51% of the public utilities that have been listed. But we go further, just as important Mr. Speaker the new section 145 that clause 4 of this bill also introduces is designed - and again we make no apology for this - to place the nationalization of BEL and BTL beyond dispute. The rights of the previous owners to receive their proper compensation within a reasonable time are expressly preserved and protected. There must and can be no turning back of the sovereign ownership of these essential services by the people of Belize. And it is the constitutional enshrinement that we are putting in motion today which will guarantee what I say is the greatest achievement of Belizean nationalism since Independence."

"Mr. Speaker this should be an occasion for all of us to rally around the flag and we on this side of the house together, I believe, with the members for Albert and Lake I are fully conscious of the moment. We know that we today embark on an endeavor that celebrates Belizean pride and consecrates Belizean identity and vindicates Belizean social justice. What we did when we first took BTL was never wrong - it was always right. There were, of course, according to the court of appeal procedural mis-steps that brought us up short before that tribunal. But it has always conceded that once we got the drafting right we were entitled under our democracy to acquire utilities in the public interest. So our nationalization was morally and politically correct even if legally flawed and it is a matter of the greatest justice now that we are curing the defects via the supreme law of the land - the Belize constitution."

"In so doing Mr. Speaker we are proud to be giving light, water and telephone to the good people of this country forever as part of the inalienable....(applause) giving light, water and telephone to the good people of this country forever as part of the inalienable patrimony of our beloved Belize."

And so what does the opposition say? Well, it was only introduced today - so there was no debate - but we did speak to the leader to find out where he stands on this constitutional amendment. Surprisingly, he was in support of it, but it gets a little complicated after that.

Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"On principle we will support the principle of wanting to enshrine into the constitution the issue of the ownership of the public utilities in the constitution."

Jules Vasquez
"Isn't your position a reversal, because you walked out of the house, you complained about expropriation of private property, of denying these people their right to own property and now you are saying 'but I am all with it if we own it.'"

Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"Not at all. What we are pointing out now is that we were against it then and we are still against the way that it has been done. But now that you are going to want to enshrine it into the constitution and to ensure that it remains in the hands of the Belizean people - then it is something that we can support. It does not mean that we are happy or satisfied with the way the government has expropriated these companies. They still have to pay compensation as to what the Prime Minister has been saying."

Jules Vasquez
"But you agree with the end results?"

Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"And we are saying in the press conference that I wish the Prime Minister could be a bit more informed and stop being so ignorant and personal in his answers. We were saying from the beginning that he should sit down and negotiate with the owners and find a settlement. That hasn't changed."

Jules Vasquez
"When the ownership of BTL changed hands three times between December 2003 and November 2004. In fact, your families' company materially gained when an interconnection was sign and gather in secret in February of 2004. The Prime Minister at that time told me that he didn't know about it and it happened behind Mr. Prosser's back. You didn't say anything then about the public owning it. You were fine with the private ownership changing three times in a year."

Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"But I am still fine with it being, remaining in private hands. But what I am saying that now it is in the hands of government and now they want to enshrine it. Then we are going to support the principle. What has changed?"

Jules Vasquez
"But your position is too casual; If private interests own it - that is alright, if public owns it - that is alright.. Yeah we will support that. Don't you have a position on it sir?"

Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"Aren't you listening!? Are you getting just like the Prime Minister? Let me put it very clear to you again - I come from the private sector and I believe that it is the private sector that creates jobs and grows the economy. It is not the government. For whatever wrong-headed decision that the government decided that they want to expropriate BTL and we were against it, and they expropriated BEL and we did not support the way it was done, it has been done, and now that it has been done let's try to clean it up - what you want me to do? Continue to fight and create more problems? At the end of the day this is costing the Belizean tax payers millions of dollars with more litigation and so if the Prime Minister is now saying that they want to now enshrine it into the constitution - he took an idea from the PUP and not from their own government because they are so full of dunces - I don't want to get so personal - please edit that. Now that we are going down that road - if that is what it will take to settle it and try to move forward then let's do it."

Jules Vasquez
"So the end justifies the means?"

Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition
"It does not justify the means, but we have to find a settlement."

And while he does support the principle - Briceno does have some issues with the amendment. It does not only cement public control of the utilities, it also clarifies the provisions relating to the amendment of the constitution. It's a complex set of changes and Briceno has interpreted it as parliament wanting to put itself over the constitution and says he has a problem with it.

He also wants a provision added for a referendum if the public wants to buy up the shares in those utilities. The proposed amendment now goes to public consultation for a minimum of 90 days before it can be taken back to the house.

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