This morning at court also gave us an opportunity for both Elrington and Courtenay to put on their public office hats.
As we told you last week, The PUP is making a push for the Maritime Areas Act to be amended. That should happen at the next meeting of the Senate where they will be allowed to introduce a motion for the Amendment to be debated.
The Opposition is acting on the advice of Belize's legal team that the Maritime Areas Act needs an amendment so that Belize can claim the full 12 miles of territorial waters between the mouth of the Sarstoon and the Ranguana Cayes in the south. Currently, Belize is only claiming 3 miles of territorial waters.
That was a concession to provide for a framework for negotiating an agreement with Guatemala.
Since all attempts at a negotiated settlement failed and both Belize and Guatemala have agreed that this territorial dispute can only be resolved at the ICJ, legal minds like Ambassador Assad Shoman have been insisting that the Maritime Areas Act needs to be amended. They reason that it strengthens Belize's case if all 12 miles of seas between the Sarstoon the Ranguana Cayes are being claimed.
So, we asked both current and past foreign ministers about the years of delay to resolve this matter, and that opened the door to some good, old-fashioned PUDP finger pointing. Here's what both sides had to say:
Hon. Wilfred Elrington - Minister of Foreign Affairs
"The propensity, or the tendency for people to want to grandstand on matters like this, is very strong. Grandstanding will only hurt you. It doesn't help a society to grand on issues like these, and the grandstanders need to be put to task. Well, when it was your turn, why did you not deal with it?"
Hon. Eamon Courtenay - PUP Senator
"First of all, he accused us of grandstanding. I will go on record to accuse him of 1, dereliction of duty, secondly, ignorance of history, thirdly, a lack of understanding of the intricacies of this process."
Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"When I heard that an initiative was going to be made to bring the matter in the Senate, to have it amended, I caused for my staff to look for the original advice, because I was told that it was based on a legal advice. I had never seen the legal advice, and no legal advice was in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. We had to inquire about its existence and a copy was furnished to our office last week by Ambassador Assad Shoman. I turned out that that legal advice was given to the Government from about 2001, 2002. Now, I cannot for the life of me understand why it was that nobody did anything about it, because from 2001, the People's United Party Government was in office from 1998 to 2008. They had the information. I am told that Mr. Courtenay was one time a foreign minister. He had the information. Said Musa had that information. Why was it not dealt with between 1998 and 2008?"
Hon. Eamon Courtenay
"The Belizean people must understand that the Maritime Areas Act was passed in order to try to arrive at a negotiated settlement of this dispute. It included in it where did not claim all our territorial seas and exclusive economic zone from the Sarstoon to Ranguana, to allow an agreement if possible to be reached, and if approved by the people. It is from then, 1991 that the legal advisors said, if no negotiated settlement is achieved, you need to make the declaration of your territorial rights and exclusive economic zone."
"What Mr. Elrington apparently either does not understand, or he understands it and is misleading the Belizean people about, is when it is that Belize and Guatemala agreed that no negotiated settlement was possible. That was in December 2008, when Wilfred Peter Elrington, as Foreign Minister of Belize, signed the Special Agreement saying we should go to court. The People's United Party, was not in Government, 2008, when the decision was taken by the parties that the matter would go to court, if the people approved it in a referendum. And therefore, the condition for the removal of the provision in the Maritime Areas Act, didn't come up until he signed that agreement. Since 2008, just under 9 years ago, Mr. Elrington had a duty and an obligation to ensure consistent legal advice we received, that the Maritime Areas Act be amended. He has not done it. He has failed to discharge his duty."
We also asked if the UDP Government will support the Amendment, since it does come from their main political opponents. Senate motions like these ones are regularly defeated in its very early stage because the Government's majority in the upper house usually votes them down. So, we asked Elrington if the Government would take a different stance this time around, and he wasn't so sure about that. He explained why:
Daniel Ortiz, reporter
"Will the Government, as far as you're aware, will you advise the Government to take a bipartisan support effort for this amendment initiative to take place through the Senate?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"No, actually, the Senate is late. If you listened to a program which I did on Krem, earlier this year, you would have seen that I had advised Krem that in fact, Cabinet had taken a decision to deal with the matter. So, it's a matter for the Cabinet to deal with, and I had said to him, we had taken a decision to deal with the matter, but dealing with the matters, one has to very conscious of the time and the circumstances because of the effect that it can have. So, basically, the Government of Belize, the Cabinet, had taken a decision to deal with it legislatively as early as April, or maybe before that."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay - PUP Senator
"The People's United Party has proposed the amendment, and proposed it in the Senate, and I listen to him just now finding all kinds of excuses as to why his party may not support. Is that a nationalistic decision? Is that in the interest of Belize, to be political on a national issue?"
"It needs to be dealt with. It should have been dealt with a long time ago. What reason, what rational basis can be advanced by the UDP, for not voting in favor? It can only be that because PUP is proposing it, they will oppose. That can only be the basis. I am assuming that they will be more mature than that. I'm assuming that they will be more patriotic than that. I'm hoping that they will do the right thing."