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#429294 - 02/02/12 08:10 AM Referendum Fails: 8k Signatures Not Legit  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,674
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline
The Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage gathered eighteen thousand signatures, that's more than the 10% of the electorate required to trigger a referendum - in their case, on offshore drilling.

And they triggered that referendum process in December, when these boxes were presented to the Governor General.

The Coalition timed the process to coincide with the Municipal elections on March 7th. But it's not going to happen - and it's not because of the technical points raised by the Prime Minister at his press conference yesterday; it's for a far more basic reason.

According to reports we've received from senior sources, the Elections and Boundaries found that the eight thousand of the names gathered do not qualify.

The reason is that the signatures of those eight thousand persons provided in the referendum petition do not match the signatures corresponding to those names in the binders of voters - which is the primary record of electors.

This was discovered by the Elections and Boundaries office during its verification of the signatures on the petition - a process which that office is required by law to perform.

Staffers had until sixth February to complete that process but - according to our information they finished earlier this week - and the list has now been sent to the Governor General for his consideration.

And, while the GG acts in his own deliberate judgment, seems there's not much to consider: without 10% of the electorate signed on and verified on a petition, the referendum simply cannot be triggered. And that's pretty much the end of story.

As we understand it, the GG's office has written to the Coalition telling them that because the signatures did not match, the petition has failed and there can be no further action on the matter.

We did reach Coalition coordinator Tanya Williams about the signatures late this evening and she told us, quote "we are confident that the signatures we submitted are valid and we will meet with the membership to discuss our options."

7 Channel 7

#429404 - 02/03/12 08:20 AM Re: Referendum Fails: 8k Signatures Not Legit [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,674
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Coalition Referendum, Verdict: DOA

Last night we broke the news that that the referendum triggered by the coalition to save our natural heritage was DOA, dead on arrival. Dead because the elections and boundaries office found that 8000 of the signatures could not be verified. That means the signatures on the petitions could not be matched against those in the binders at the elections and boundaries office.

But 8000 signatures of the 20,000 collected scratched? How could that be? That's almost 1 out of every 2! Was it mass fraud or mass confusion? Or just bad penmanship? Or did people simply not remember how they had signed on voter's ID?

Whatever the case, the elections and boundaries held a conference this afternoon in Belmopan to explain it all to the media and offered examples of the discrepancies.

It was a high powered event with CEOs from many prominent ministries, but the explaining was left to the chief elections officer Josephine Tamai. Here's what she had to say:..

Josephine Tamai, chief elections officer
"In all a total of 20,160` signatures were reviewed by the department. There do not include those which OCEANA identified as duplicates. Of the total signatures that were reviewed a total of 12,113 were accepted as those signatures match those that we have on the record cards."

"In order to do the verification process what we had to do was to individually take out the record cards that we have on file to verify those signatures because those are what we used. When a person goes in to register, the information is placed on a record card and they need to sign it."

"A total of 12,113 of the signatures that we reviewed were accepted. This was 7.07% of the total number of registered voters and this is also 60% of the total signatures that were reviewed."

"A total 8,047 signatures were rejected which makes up the other 40%."

"Signatures that were reviewed were rejected for reasons mainly - majority of them was that the signatures just didn't match the signatures that we have on the record card. From those rejected we found a total of 1,180 persons were not registered any at all in our system. We had 127 persons who sign 2 times. We had 2 persons who signed 3 times."

"Under the referendum act - for those persons who signed more than once that's an offence under the referendum act and these persons actually are guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $1,000 or to imprisonment for a tern not exceeding one year or to both such fine and imprisonment."

"I would want to give an advice to anybody wanted to present a referendum for the Elections and Boundaries Department in order for it to go through because at the end of the day we are all Belizeans, I am a Belizean and we want to see things go the right way, so signing or not signing the petition as professional public officers that we are our job is to simply deal with the information that is presented to us."

"We have to go according to the signatures that are presented and the signatures that we have on file. That's as far as we go because according to the referendum act the job of the chief elections officer is to verify those signatures."

Jules Vasquez
"Let's say I registered I 1998 but my signature is no longer what it was then and that happens to many people, as they get older their signatures changes. Is there any way to address such a discrepancy? I ask because I can see a similarity in penmanship between the signatures that did have a discrepancy but you can see that (I am no expert) there are similarities in the shaping of the letters; the style of writing. a) is there any way to fix a problem like mine and b) what is the tolerance for discrepancies that your people showed being themselves not hand writing experts."

Josephine Tamai
"I will have to agree with that, for me I am no hand writing expert and our officers at the department similarly, we are no hand writing experts. But what we did was we look very closely at each and every single one of them and as long as we could satisfy ourselves that yes; sometimes we even go look at the age of the person because like you said with age sometimes the signatures vary a little. We look at those things. We used our best judgment for every single one. Some of them we had to give the benefit of the doubt."

Louis Wade, PLUS TV
"Was there any independent organization or vetting crew that brought in to verify that your elections and boundaries commission was being fair in carrying out its duties?"

Josephine Tamai
"As we mentioned when we started that what we did was request additional staff from the Ministry of Public Service and those persons included persons from within the wider public service who are not election and boundaries department employees. So those are the independent persons that we used in order to assist in this exercise."

Louis Wade, PLUS TV
"I wouldn't consider that to be independent. My second question refers to: will your department release those 8,000 names so that the individuals whose names were rejected will themselves be able to determine publicly whether their signatures are indeed the same or different from the registration cards?"

Josephine Tamai
"Those will definitely be release but it's not to say that the persons will be able to say if they sign or not because at the end of the day we have to go by the documents presented to us."

Charles Gibson, CEO - Ministry of Public Service and Governance
"The second thing which I think is coming out here quite clearly is the matter of a signature and who is an expert to determine a signature. I clearly agree with what has been said earlier because I know my own signature. Over the 10-12 years has evolve, whether its age or maturity of whatever I don't know but clearly it has change and those are some of the things I think we need to look at. But please lets be fair here for a minute. This is the first time we are doing verification of signatures and we have to go by what the law says and in the event that the law needs to be amended and needs to be modernize then that is the case."

"The chief elections officer also indicated and I want to point this out clearly that she is saying that also with those signatures that were accepted, even those got the benefit of the doubt. So we have to bear that in mind and yes I do agree with you that maybe perhaps the process has to be reviewed. The process has to be a little bit more that where the time is given that in the event that the chief elections has to go outside to houses to visit, to verify signatures, to call people and come in clearly but she would not have had the time to do that on the two months which is given under the law."

Josephine Tamai
"In order for us to do that we will have to change the referendum act because the act specifically states verify signatures and that's what we do. We verify what is presented to us."

"Employees in the elections and boundaries department had been instructed to disqualify as many signatures as possible. Can you assure us that that categorically has not happen?"

Josephine Tamai
"As the chief elections officer I can categorically deny that because at the end of the day I know nobody told me that signatures should be disallowed for any reason and to go further they can ask any of the officers who have been assigned to that department because I have stressed because like I said we are also citizens of Belize and we want to see then best for our country."

A few points: the Elections and Boundaries Office had to take on 14 staff to finish within the two month timeline and according to Tamai they worked right through Christmas and New Year's. One thousand four hundred and forty of those signing the referendum petition were not registered, or they signed more than twice or as many as three times.

So with ten thousand signatures verified and 17 thousand needed to trigger a referendum, can The Coalition re-submit those same ten thousand names? Well, the law is silent on that - so presumably, they can. Presumably, all the names will be sent back to OCEANA - which made the submission on behalf of the Coalition for its review and records.

Channel 7

#429409 - 02/03/12 08:24 AM Re: Referendum Fails: 8k Signatures Not Legit [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,674
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

Oceana Belize not giving up on referendum

The Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage intended to hold the referendum on the same day of the general and municipal elections on March seventh. And according to one coalition member, government ministers have already taken to the airwaves to shoot down the initiative. But the coalition will not give up on its movement to have the referendum take place. The NGO that triggered the move to a referendum, Oceana Belize is not taking the situation lightly. News Five spoke via Phone to Audrey Matura Shepherd, OCEANA’s Vice President for Belize. Shepherd is out of the country but is still on the campaign for the referendum.

Via Phone: Audrey Matura Shepherd, VP, Oceana .Belize

“We got a letter yesterday from the Governor General in which he indicated that the elections and boundaries has indicated that we did not meet the ten percent threshold. We totally dispute that because before we handed in those signatures, we did not only vet it ourselves, but we also went through a vetting process through an agency that we hired so that they would look and see that the people who sign are people in the database. But we did not have access to the actual cards to say oh yes every r and t and I matches the same. But again we are not writing experts, signature experts; that’s not our forte and I don’t know anyone at the elections and boundaries that has that expertise. The disappointment with it is that in the vetting process run with a thought that they would have then gone and visit with these people and check with them or call them to see if they indeed sign with this referendum because that is what you do when there is new registration and because the referendum is something new, you would follow those kind of processes that are already in the system. It doesn’t seem like that is what they do. So we still need to hear the official version because it si interesting that we started this process through the Governor Genera. We wrote the Governor General so expected an answer from the Governor General. And we subsequently wrote him a letter to ask him to find out if they can also give us an indication officially what were the ground upon which eight thousand signatures were disqualified. We found it amazing that now the government find it convenient to hijack the process and become the spokesperson. I’ve been informed reliably that both the Prime Minister and Mister Patrick Faber have gone on the radio making comments. But we never petition them. And as we have done, it was Monday of this week, we sent a letter to the Prime Minister telling him that it was still not too late for him to present a resolution in the National Assembly to get full support that in deed the issue of offshore oil is of such national importance that it should go to a referendum. Because the referendum act section two paragraph A allows for such a provision. We also were making sure that there was the other option available so that if this government genuinely wants a referendum, wants a mandate from the people, wants to know what the people had to say on this issue, they actually had a process that they could have used—separate and apart from the process we viewed. And obviously they had no intention because tomorrow the national assembly is officially dissolved.”

Channel 5

#430000 - 02/09/12 08:41 AM Re: Referendum Fails: 8k Signatures Not Legit [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,674
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

OCEANA Belize has encountered yet another setback in their quest for a referendum on off shore drilling. As we reported on Tuesday, Governor General Sir Colville Young has turned down a request in which OCEANA Belize asked him to investigate the decision of the Chief Elections officer to reject over eight thousand signatures on the petition for the referendum. Vice President of OCEANA Belize, Audrey Matura Shepherd, told Love News more on the letter from the Governor General.

Audrey Matura Shepherd – Vice President, Oceana Belize
“When we got the official letter saying that over eight thousand signatures were rejected, we never got a reason for the rejection and having triggered a mechanism in the law by which we were presenting these new signatures through the Governor General, we thought that the respectful and proper thing to do was to write through the Governor General asking the Governor General to give us a report, through, from the elections and boundaries telling us the names of these people and why they were rejected. As a result the Governor General wrote us and said that he didn’t find anything in the law that gave him that power to do and therefore he referred us to the minister responsible for Elections and Boundaries or to the Prime Minister for answers. Subsequent to that what we did late yesterday evening was, we wrote a letter to the CEO in the ministry responsible for elections and boundaries and copied the relevant minister, copied the Prime Minister and copied the Chief Elections Officer. And we asked for three things: Give us the names of all these people, give us the reason for each one of them, why you disqualify us and tell us what law, what rules, regulations or what internal instructions were given to determine the process by which these were vetted. And so we are awaiting the response and I’m sure they’ll cooperate and give us the response because I think that this being the first referendum we’ve tried, a lot can be learnt and we are glad to be involved in the process, so that it be a learning experience for all. You know in everything that seemingly is negative there’s positive and we remain optimistic because at the end of the day while we asked for a referendum and we realized it would have been a challenge, that political leaderships don’t always like people to fully be involved although the rhetoric is they want to be involved, realizing that we will still do what we have to do, but there’s a bigger picture here. It wasn’t always about only the referendum. It’s about the issue of offshore oil; do we or do we not want it in our waters? And there are other mechanisms we can use to bring about the awareness to impress in Governments or leaderships that you know, let’s not rush, let’s do it responsibly. And I happen to bring along the Belizean public so that they understand, try to keep the politics ‘outa’ it. Love your country first, not the party first. There’s a bigger good.”

OCEANA Belize handed in a little over twenty thousand signatures, with about one thousand of those allowing for a margin of error.

Audrey Matura Shepherd – Vice President, Oceana Belize
“We were always prepared to give a margin of error between a thousand to two thousand of those signatures because even as chairs when we went through the vetting process, we had to scratch out some as duplicates, we had to put notes next to some that said that we couldn’t find them on the database and so but, having given these in doesn’t mean that we wanted to do anything improper or there is no sinister motive. It simply means that we were trying to do our due diligence, but at the end of the day the final authority to vet these, really lies in the elections and boundaries. Like the thousand that we weren’t sure if they were in the database, we didn’t mind handing those in, simply because we knew that people register and they don’t hit the database until after and we did not have the database of the election and boundaries on the updated version that they have. So we knew there was a process but we did pre-vetting to make sure that we at least met the ten percent threshold.”

Shepherd says that OCEANA Belize knew the process would not be easy but they made it easier by doing the pre-vetting of signatures by including additional information like the voters registration Identification number and telephone numbers so that the elections and boundaries department could do their verification, however they opted to just compare signatures without being signature experts. Shepherd also told Love News what the next step is for OCEANA Belize should the signatures still be negated after following the recommended processes.

Audrey Matura Shepherd – Vice President, Oceana Belize
“If the signatures remain rejected there is still more to be done. Definitely we will make our recommendations as to how to improve that law and show the flaws in the whole system and so while it is not genuine to say that people actually have a say in a referendum in this country because the system is so designed to frustrate that process and to undermine it but we can help from this experience in improving it. There’s always something positive. There’s a platinum lining at the, around every cloud here. That’s one thing on that issue. But the way forward is that we will not give up our advocacy to make people become more aware about the whole issue of offshore oil drilling and to keep on highlighting and educating people about the importance of these resources so people understand that we are actually making money off right now these resources, we cannot afford to destroy them we cannot afford to degrade them we cannot afford to even put them at risk or threatening them. The eco-audit yesterday clearly showed that the government officials admitted that there is a value to the reef, which is like a billion Belize dollars value annually. That our reef protects us from storms, it protects us from hurricanes, it provides us a livelihood, it’s a source of tourism, and most important, twenty percent of our workforce have a job as a result of that resource out there and we need to do the math. We Belizeans need to be responsible and do the math.”

Shepherd says that those whose signatures were rejected and even those whose signatures were not, should not feel disheartened, for the mere fact that they signed the form means they have achieved something. She also said that she would like for people to step away from involving politics in the issue and to think about what is the right thing for Belize.


#430118 - 02/10/12 09:13 AM Re: Referendum Fails: 8k Signatures Not Legit [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 55,674
Marty Offline
Marty  Offline

OCEANA Says Failed Referendum Was Not A Waste

It was the big news last week that the OCEANA Referendum was rejected by the Elections and Boundaries Office after eight thousand of their twenty thousand signatures were rejected.

So, what's next? Well, OCEANA is not ruling out judicial review - but first Vice President Audrey Matura-Shepherd says they need answers for each rejected signature.

She was out of the country when the news broke last week but yesterday she told us that she feels there was an official agenda to undermine the referendum effort:..

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"If you are going to vet whether someone signed or not, you had to do more than just look at the signature. We've had many instances and I even went to check my ID and realize that my signature from when I last registered to present, has definitely changed a lot I mean my named changed too and I signed differently. So I don't think that, that would have been proper basis to do it. So I thought it was really lame, that you would only look at cards, because one; they are not hand writing experts, two; they did not ascertain that these people have changed their handwriting and three; they definitely made no attempt, at calling these people. I don't think that the vetting took place in good faith and so it seems a bit sinister."

Jules Vasquez
"You're casting wide aspersions against public officers, against people who according to the chief elections officer work through Christmas and New Year's. The ambit of time was so little. A. The law does not require them to call. B. In what time would they have called?"

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"Ok, the law does not require them to call and neither does it require them not to call. If they didn't feel that they didn't want to make that call there should have been a meeting called. We are the parties here; we are the ones looking up to them to do the right thing. That was never done."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you all able to reuse the signatures which are beyond argument at this time?"

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"I don't think we are able, because you see this has never been done in Belize so there is not precedent but when you look at other jurisdiction, I checked a scenario in the US and when it fails at that point you have to start from scratch again."

Jules Vasquez
"You accept that this entire, costly, time consuming, psychically draining process of the referendum on offshore drilling has failed?"

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"I like how you put it because when you put it like that, what you really are saying is that democracy has failed and what you're really saying to me is that we were setup. If you believe it has failed, it hasn't failed because we the people didn't believe in it and try to make it work. It failed because the authorities have found every loophole, every gray area and every will they have to make it fail."

"But Jules you cannot say it has failed in the sense that people were motivated, they were inspired, they wanted to be part of it, and they participated."

Jules Vasquez
"People want to be part of something symbolic Audrey; they want to be part of something meaningful. You wasted all our time and energy."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"How could it be we wasted?"

Jules Vasquez
"And hundreds and thousands of dollars in advertising and publicity."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"We went through the process, we went through the process."

Jules Vasquez
"But you failed on the prof, the proof is the signature."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"How could we have failed? Can we condemn the people who did not know how they signed 20 years ago?"

Jules Vasquez
"Yes but you know that it comes down to proof, and it comes down to signature, that's what the law says. You should have been titer and more demanding on the signatures. But you all just wanted names; this is what happens when you pay people to get names."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"That is not true we never paid anyone to get names, nobody paid to sign that is not true."

Jules Vasquez
"But agents were paid to go and collect signature."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"No, that is not true. It's not a payment. People were given money for food and water, especially in the districts because people would take time and go out but it would have been unfair for them not to have money for food and water."

Jules Vasquez
"You did spend hundreds of Thousands of dollars."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"Hundreds of Thousand, No."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes you did, the advertising alone I know how much."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Vice President for OCEANA
"But it has brought to light a lot of big issues. This is I think the second referendum being attempted, this one went a step farther, we hope that by the third one and the fourth one we will perfect it."

OCEANA and The Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage has not yet decided if it will re-launch the referendum effort - which would mean starting from scratch all over again.

Channel 7

#430186 - 02/10/12 04:46 PM Re: Referendum Fails: 8k Signatures Not Legit [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 2000
Posts: 723
SFJeff Offline
SFJeff  Offline
What he heck is Jules Vasquez's problem???

Hard to believe there is NOT an agenda to undermine the referendum effort. If nothing else, it seems statistically improbable (if not impossible) for 45% of the signatures collected to be declared invalid...???

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