Friends of Belize collects 21,000 signatures for referendum
Public consultations on the proposed Ninth Amendment to the Constitution have concluded. Most will agree that the proceedings were divided sharply along political lines and the independent pulse is difficult to tell. During the raging public debate on the controversial amendment, there were many who felt that the proposed amendment should first be put in a referendum for the people to decide. The Prime Minister Dean Barrow is making the proposed change to one of the central policies of his administration and he intends to go back to the House on October twenty-first with the Ninth. On September twelfth, Friends of Belize launched a public campaign to garner signatures from a required minimum of ten percent of the electorate. Its objective, as anticipated, is to trigger a national referendum. Over the period of a month the organization amassed the signatures of over twenty-one thousand registered voters, who collectively agree that amending Section Sixty-Nine of the constitution should be put to the people. The petition was then handed over to the Office of the Governor General this morning before being formally submitted to the Chief Elections Officer for verification. Having met the necessary requirements, including the twenty-one thousand signatures, it remains uncertain whether government will accede to the will of the people and put the matter to poll. FOB nonetheless maintains that the petition was carried out during and is a legitimate part of the consultation process.
Tanya Usher, Executive Director, Friends of Belize
“We felt, we saw that there was a need, we saw that the issue had become way too political, way too polarized. We didn’t think that people’s opinions were being properly expressed, getting lost in all the clouds and everything with politics. And so we thought that enough people had asked for a referendum and we think that when your constitution is being altered, as ours is, and can infringe on our rights and our freedoms it should be our choice whether we want such a change to our constitution or not. So it should be something that goes to a referendum.”
“How do you respond to several criticisms that have been made and others that will be made with regards to the agenda being pushed here? Some are saying that this is something that is promoting the Michael Ashcroft interest. It is also being said that it is promoting the People’s United Party’s interest in a more subtle way. How do you respond to those criticisms?”
“When we launched our organization, Friends of Belize, in March of this year we made it clear what our mission was. Our mission was to, we had three main objectives: one, to advocate for policies that will bring social and economic development; two, to promote policies that will bring long term growth to Belize and three, to help to create a welcoming business climate in Belize for both foreign and direct investment. The Ninth Amendment we feel will not only threaten our reputation as a stable country where the rule of law is respected but it also will threaten our reputation as a country that people will feel confident enough to come and invest in. So it fits into our objective, it fits into our mission and we felt the need to make it a part of our agenda.”
“Is this concrete, the process that has been undertaken to garner these signatures? It can be compared to a public consultation as such, is this a concrete means of gathering these names?”
“I think it’s a very good demonstration of what the people of Belize want. It’s a very concrete show. As you know the law is very specific [and] there are technical requirements. Your electors have to be identifiable not only by name, by registration number, by constituency, by date of birth and their signature and all of that has to be presented to the Governor General who then turns it over to the Chief Elections Officer who will check it [and] verify it. The Chief Elections Officer only has two months to do this but given that this was done and checked in one month I don’t think that that should be too difficult and then from there it must go back to the Governor General with a certificate as to how many signatures have been properly obtained and then after that if it is more than the ten percent that’s required a referendum will be triggered.”
FOB says that to ensure transparency during the process of attaining the signatures, accounting firm Horwath Belize was contracted as auditors.