Tomorrow the government is going to the House Of Representatives to present and push through a bill which - it hopes - will make it so that the ICJ referendum can be held in four to 6 weeks - without legal challenge. It's called the Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Bill and it seeks to create a special path for the Writ which sets a date for the ICJ referendum. It's the government's attempt to get around a Supreme Court injunction against the original referendum because of a possible defect in the procedure for issuing the writ.

Today, at a Parliamentary Caucus, the PUP decided that it will not support the bill. The Leader explained why at his office two hours ago:..

Hon. John Briceno- Leader of the Opposition
"We just got it this morning. And to add salt to injury, tomorrow, it seems, the government is going to go through all three stages. We believe it is disrespectful to the opposition simply because it will not give us an opportunity to be able to not only debate the bill but also to make some constructive recommendations in how we can improve this. For instance, I think it is almost obscene the haste that this act will give the Prime Minister in calling a referendum. He will send a letter to the Governor General and within five days the Governor General has to answer and the Governor General can give a minimum of ten days. Before it was thirteen, now they are reducing it to ten days. You have to ask yourself why. Why the undue haste? What's the hurry? Why is it that the government believes that they have to hold this referendum so quickly? Let's sit down, let us discuss as government and opposition with a level of maturity and respect for one another. Because when we were quickly perusing through the bill there could be sections, for instance, like section 3 that could very well end up in court; it can be challenged. As an opposition, we've just finished our parliamentary caucus and our parliamentarians, including house members and senators, find it difficult to support a bill that is being thrust upon us today; go tomorrow in one sitting and go through all the three stages. I believe that we need more time."

Jules Vasquez - Reporter
"So that really is the question. Since you all feel you don't have enough time and you can't support it at this time, will you all try to block it in court? Because we know the government is pushing forward with it so that it can have a referendum within a short time, maybe four to six weeks."

Hon. John Briceno
"Well, again, for us what is important is to get it right. As to, if we are going to take this to court or not, that is left to be seen. What is important is that the government should hit the pause button. Let us sit down and look at this quietly. Let us discuss rationally and then let us see how we can make this piece of legislation that is being proposed tomorrow to work better. Let us get it right."

Jules Vasquez
"Are you afraid that your party will be labeled as deliberately obstructionist? The sense I have, perhaps I am wrong, is that people just want the referendum to be out of their hair, whether they want to vote no or yes, it is a national cause of anxiety. And you all are prolonging that anxiety."

Hon. John Briceno
"I think it is the opposite. I believe that a lot of people want more time because they are afraid to make the wrong decision. The level of anxiety is increasing because they feel like it is the government that is pressuring them, "We have to make a decision, we have to make a decision right now!" Why? Why was April 10th a magic number? Why is next month going to be a magic number? Guatemala changed their referendum three times so they could ensure that they could get it right. We need to do the same thing."

Jules Vasquez
"so, then, what is the end game here? Is it just a delaying tactic so that, as you say, people can reflect or educate themselves more? And when will that delaying tactic end and you finally accept that indeed a referendum must be held?"

Hon. John Briceno
"Absolutely not. We are not deliberately delaying anything. As the opposition, where we are representing over 67 thousand voters from the last election, we have a moral and legal responsibility to these people, and to everybody, to ensure that we can get this right. We have waited about a hundred plus years since 1859, why can't we wait a few more months to make sure we get it right?"

Jules Vasquez
"So, a few more months is your timeline?"

Hon. John Briceno
"Well, let's just get it right."

Jules Vasquez
"The Prime Minister has criticized you for standing in the way of Belizeans trying to exercise their franchise as voters and to vote on a matter of great national importance. How would you respond to that criticism?"

Hon. John Briceno
"Are you shocked by that? After he has been embarrassed twice in the courts in his iron clad cases? Of course he will have to say something. He's trying to find a way how he can justify the loses in court."

And while the PUP leader says he wants to get it right, we kind of got the sense his party's strategy is to delay the referendum further by "lawyering" the legislation. We asked him about this approach:…

Jules Vasquez - Reporter
"Sir, you've just met with six attorneys, or I saw six leaving here. Am I to conclude that then your strategy, at this point, is fundamentally legal and not political? Because we know the government has the majority in the house."

Hon. John Briceno- Opposition Leader
"No, absolutely not. What we did, this is the legal team that has been guiding us with the legal cases and we just got a new piece of legislation. So, it was just the right thing to do. To call them in, for them to explain to us this referendum bill that is in front of us."

Jules Vasquez
"I just got a snapshot of one piece. Conflict of laws, article 12 or .12 says that if there is inconsistencies between the provisions of this act and provisions of any other law, the provisions of this act shall prevail. Obviously that is to clear the way for it not to have anything standing its way, the original referendum act. Is this something that you all specifically oppose?"

Hon. John Briceno
"You are probably a better lawyer than I am. So, it would be difficult to answer that. But I think there are other areas where we have even bigger concerns. The biggest one would be on section 3, whether it requires a constitutional amendment. Where they are saying a referendum shall be held to enable electors to vote on whether the government of Belize should, in accordance with the special agreement and the protocols of the special agreement, as requested to continue. We could be implicitly agreeing to amend the constitution through this section 3. We still are not sure. and our legal team would have to advise us whether that is so or not. And if it is so, then that means that under the constitution you need to give at least a 90 day cool off period to able to vote any changes when it comes to the constitution. Please, and I am not an attorney, I am just repeating as it has been explained to me. So, I think there are more important issues in the last section 12 that you were talking about."

Jules Vasquez
"So then, being that they don't have that time to fully review, etcetera, it is fair to say, you'll see them in court?"

Hon. John Briceno
"Well, we believe that tomorrow it will be very difficult for us to support this bill."

Reporter
"Can the public expect PUP as a party to not support this bill in house tomorrow and in the senate on Monday?"

Hon. John Briceno
"The consensus this afternoon that we had from all our parliamentarians is they believe that, as it is right now, as it stands right now, it will be very difficult for us to support it tomorrow. Maybe the Prime Minister may decide to just table it and then go through its process by having a House Committee meeting and have people coming in and give suggestions and hopefully some amendments that will address the concerns that we may have. If they do that then obviously it will have some more time for us to discuss. We believe that at this time, the way it is, it will be very difficult for us to support it tomorrow."

Jules Vasquez
"Including Said Musa and Valerie Woods who have both been in favor of a yes vote?"

Hon. John Briceno
"Well, senator Woods was here this afternoon and I said there was a consensus. The former Prime Minister was in court so he could not attend. But I have every confidence that he will support the party's position when it comes to the actual bill that is going to be tabled tomorrow."

The government is expected to take the bill through all three readings tomorrow, and then take it to the Senate on Monday.

US, UK and EU Press (Nicely) For Referendum

And while the opposition wants a few months to get it right, two G-8 nations and a powerful political union which make up a big part of the so called "Friends of Belize" seem to be getting a little impatient. The European Union, the United Kingdom and the USA Today issued a joint statement saying they have quote, "taken note of the postponement of the referendum."

The statement adds, "The EU, the UK and the USA maintain their support in favour of the referendum and hope that it can take place as soon as possible." While not telling anyone how to vote, the statement clearly favours a yes saying, quote, "the referendum process is the route towards a peaceful dispute resolution agreed upon jointly by Belize and Guatemala." It concludes by saying "The EU, the UK and the USA hope that the legal obstacles preventing the referendum from being held can be resolved in accordance with Belize's legal procedures." End quote.

We note that these three have put many millions over many years towards the OAS confidence building process which paves the path to the ICJ.

Channel 7