The House Passes The Ninth
The Ninth Amendment went back to the House Of Representatives this morning to be passed by the lower House. It should have been automatic, but no piece of legislation has generated as much controversy as the ninth - and with that, the possibility arose that the government side might not get the requisite two thirds majority to pass it into law.
So the stakes were high: First the Prime Minister had to be on a countdown to make sure all 24 of his representatives turned up and would vote for it; second The Prime Minister also had to be waiting on a judgment from the Supreme Court to determine whether it could even be signed into law once it was passed; third dozens of busses with UDP supporters were streaming in from all across the country to cheer on their party in its most difficult, but also its most defining hour.
And maybe that's why the Prime Minister broke form his personal tradition and walked over from the Administration Building with an entourage of supporters in tow, all the party's parliamentarians, both Area Representatives and Senators. He walked with a spring in his step because all 24 parliamentarians had shown up and would vote for the amendment and news had just come down that the request for an injunction was dismissed.
First, Barrow went to greet the assembled crowds - which was in the hundreds - and pressed flesh with the ardent supporters - principally from the north, who dominated the frontline.
And Barrow also had to be confident because he knew that inside the house, the Opposition bench was decimated: three opposition seats were empty as John Briceno, Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde were absent, and John Briceno's position had the words "leader of the opposition" taped over after he resigned from that post earlier this week.
With the stage set in that way, the Prime Minister introduced the bill for the second reading, discussed the changes on the final version presented to the House and spoke about the broad aim of the bill. Here's what he said and some of the debate that ensued:..
Hon. Dean Barrow
"What should never be lost sight of though is the raise or death of this bill and its reason for being is of course the enshrinement in our constitution of public ownership of the essential utilities. Now our position on this has long since become none negotiable. It is a position that is both a physiological touchstone and a practical policy imperative. In the context on this government' pro poor and poor people creed public ownership of essential utilities is irresistible. The Ashcroft Alliance as the previous foreign majority owners of Telemedia have come to be called is of course against a constitutional change that would make impossible their quest to regain ownership of BTL. The extent to which they will go and have gone is outrageous. It includes attempting to traduce and seduce members of this House with million dollar bribes."
"They went to two members on our side and offered them a million dollars each to either vote against or abstain on the 9th Amendment Bill. But of course Mr. Speaker that did not work with the stout hearts and strong minds of our proud United Democratic Party."
"But as rich as these people are Mr. Speaker they have numerous paid agents and front organizations that have rallied to their banner. They have also been able to infiltrate and ideologically manipulate even some legitimate social partners. My democratic convictions have obliged me to incline my head in the direction of those that genuinely still have reservations about the Bill. But if I bow I do not genuflect - they have had their say and we respect it. They must in turn but seed the day to the majority - the vast majority that supports and indeed rhapsodizes to victory symbolize by the 9th, for this ultimately Mr. Speaker a glorious hour and testament to it are the thousands of Belizeans out here at the steps of this National Assembly and overflowing Independence Plaza."
"They bear celebratory witness and ecstatic acclamation to foremost triumph nationalism. Light, Water and Electricity are ours. Ownership is now to be irreversible and indissoluble and this Mr. Speaker this will be emblazon forever on the scroll of our country's history."
"It is enshrining public ownership of the utilities, that it all it does. So if even if you don't agree that that enshrinement should not be subject to challenge. Explain to me how making it not liable to challenge takes away the right of any Belizean. The Bill speaks for nothing else at all. It was always a straw man of first argument - a stalking horse for the Ashcroft Alliance to say that the Bill is eroding Belizean rights. Forget what they say because the mass of the people know that we act today out of the purest of motives and in the noblest of causes."
Hon. Said Musa
"The question that must be asked is why is the government tampering with our constitution to do this when they have not even settle the issue of compensation which they will have to pay whether it's that government or future government. Why?"
Speaker of the House
"Members of the gallery, I will expect that you remain silence. I need to hear what the Honorable is saying. Please proceed."
Hon. Said Musa
"Secondly Mr. Speaker, why is the government doing this? When their very first takeover of BTL has been declared unlawful and invalid by the Court of Appeal and if they felt that the court was wrong - the Court of Appeal, the highest court in Belize. If they felt that that court was wrong - why did they not appeal the decision? Why instead did they use the force of the police and the army to take back control of BTL in defiance of the judgment for the Court of Appeal? This I submit Mr. Speaker with yet another clear demonstration of this government arrogant abuse of power that they seem to believe that might makes right. In fact that was not nationalization - it was expropriation of private property as the court found. In other words in the view of the government it seems the court can say what they want but it's the Prime Minister and the super majority in the House that run things and can do whatsoever they want. To hell with the rule of law - that seems to be the attitude of this government."
"In plain layman's language Mr. Speaker what the 9th Amendment is seeking to do is to empower the National Assembly - to make any changes they like to the constitution so long as they have the necessary majority vote in the House. By this stroke of the pen this UDP government will be converting our system of parliamentary democracy into a system of parliamentary supremacy. I ask myself why are we going down this path because it is a dangerous monstrosity that drives a state through the very heart of the constitution, through the very heart of our democracy when that cannot even defend the Belize Defence Force barracks - how can we expect them to defend 8,866 Sq. miles of country of Belize."
Speaker of the House
"Honorable member for Fort George, a member is raising a point of order."
Hon. Patrick Faber
"Mr. Speaker I am sure that the member is aware that this debate and this contribution should be on the 9th Amendment Bill, he has really gone off track now."
Hon. Said Musa
"Mr. Speaker that is the behavior of this government led by the Prime Minister, I am sorry to say. But instead of attacking the principle, instead of explaining their policy they resort to personal attacks, personal lies against prominent people in this House and outside of this House so when anybody disagree with them, when the President of the Chamber of Commerce disagree with them on the 9th Amendment what do they do? they attack the good lady. When the president of the Bar Association express disagreements with the government's' position on the 9th Amendment they attack the lady personally. When Senator Lisa Shoman spoke out on behalf of the referendum they attack Senator Lisa Shoman. In other words they can shout and scream as much as they want and try and accuse me of lies. It is time Mr. Speaker to put a halt to this stampede to chaos and anarchy in our country. We in the Opposition like the thousands of Belizeans say no to the 9th Amendment!"
Hon. Marcel Cardona
"I will not be a participant. I will not be painted. I will not go down in history as being one of those that supported the trumping upon the democratic rights of every citizen. Hence, I would need to abstain therefore. Thank you very much."
Hon. Francis Fonseca
"This is a dangerous road for Belize to travel Mr. Speaker. We can achieve and secure nationalization without shredding the fundamental rights and protections guaranteed in our constitution. Section 2 as others have pointed out of the constitution is the supreme law clause. The amendment to section 2 along with the propose amendment to section 69 of the constitution seek to change the very essence and the very core of the Belize constitution. This is why Belizeans from all over the country, from all walks of life have loudly proclaimed their opposition to this amendment. Leave our constitution alone Mr. Prime Minister! Leave our fundamental
rights and freedoms alone. Our people are suffering Mr. Prime Minister, they want jobs, they want hope, they want a better life for their family. They want a better life for their children. Not the tyranny, they don't want the tyranny, the dictatorship that this 9th Amendment proposes. I say NO to the 9th Amendment Mr. Speaker!"
The Prime Minister responded to those criticisms when he wound up the debate and we'll have that for you later on in the newscast.
But the bottom line on the day is that at about 3:30 this afternoon, it was passed by the house with 24 members on the UDP side each voting for its passage.
Which brings us to the injunction. Vaughan Gill and Ricardo Castillo, instrumentalized by the Ashcroft Alliance, went to the Supreme Court earlier this week asking the Chief Justice for an injunction to stop the Attorney General from passing the bill to the Governor General or presenting the GG form signing it into law.
As we told you earlier, that was denied by the CJ, and later in the news we'll have reaction from both sides.