Today was budget day in Belmopan, the most important date on the parliamentary calendar. That's when the revenue and appropriations bill for the coming fiscal year is tabled to authorise all government spending. And while the house business is serious - the PUP wasn't playing one bit. The opposition had a spring in its step after a massive protest 11 days ago. Sensing the Barrow Administration was on the ropes, they seemed to have come into the house, fixing for a fight, or a knockout punch. Right off the bat, the leader of the opposition tried to stop the PM form even reading the budget. Here's how that went
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister "Madam I arise to introduce a bill for an act to appropriate certain sums of money for the use of the public service... This is a point of order Madam Speaker."
Hon. John Briceno - Leader of the Opposition "Point of order Madam Speaker, the Belize constitution dictates that the leader on the side of the government should be acting as Prime Minister but the Prime Minister is no longer the leader, as long as I know that had a convention and that the Hon. member from Belmopan was elected leader of the party. So he's supposed to be the Prime Minister Madam Speaker"
Laura Longsworth - Speaker of the House "Kindly be seated, kindly proceed Prime Minister...."
Hon. John Briceno "Can I add one more point madam speaker..."
Laura Longsworth "Just have your seat leader; you will have enough time, just have a seat. You are going to have your time."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow "I will tell the house and the gallery that I had to call you this morning to ask your apologies because I needed to be late. What happened was I left Belize City, I was in such a rush that I had forgotten that I did not take my pain killers and so I had to turn back around to get my pain killers... Wish that you had turn back around sir to your simple pills! That's what you should have done."
Hon. John Briceno "That is the problem Madam Speaker, this man has taken so much drugs, that the drugs the get to his head you know Madam Speaker. All of the drugs that he has to take for his pain is starting to affect his head Madam Speaker, that is the problem! That is why he behaves unto in this house Madam Speaker."
Laura Longsworth "Please proceed and one last time, if you want to try me today, go right ahead and I'm going to clear the gallery. Please proceed..."
Hon. Oscar Requena - PUP Toledo West "Madam Speaker"
Laura Longsworth "Prime Minister has the chair. I'm sorry; you don't have the microphone, the Prime Minister...."
Hon. Oscar Requena "But this is unfair Madam Speaker; we have a point of order."
Laura Longsworth "What's the point of order?"
Hon. Oscar Requena "Madam Speaker the point of order is that this house Madam Speaker requires that as members of this honourable house, we must carry out ourselves with a certain level of decorum. It's unacceptable for the Prime Minister to be referring to the Leader of the Opposition as simple Madam Speaker. It's unacceptable, I request Madam Speaker that he retracts his statement."
Laura Longsworth "Prime Minister... no more interruptions please."
Hon. John Briceno "We are going to step out and he can continue doing his illegal reading and when he finish with this charade, we are going to come back. Let him read by himself and we are going to come back afterwards. Thank you Madam Speaker."
Briceno Explains Walkout
So, the opposition walked out on the budget - but they didn't walk out for the day - after all, they had a no confidence motion tabled for the afternoon session.
So, the party went into the members room and then decided to come out to the front to speak to a handful of protestors from Santa Cruz village in Stann Creek West.
We asked the Opposition Leader about the walkout:
Hon. John Briceno - Leader of the Opposition "Well we only walked away from the presentation of the budget because we believe that one; the Prime Minister is no longer the leader of the UDP and by virtue of that, he should no longer be the Prime Minister. Secondly, we took out a legal case against the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance and he was found guilty of being serial violate of the constitution and the finance and audit reform act. He was found it have spent illegally approximately 1.5 billion dollars. Almost every year he gives supplementary budgets to averaging about 40% of what was approved, so it's a joke, it's a mockery what he's doing today. He's going to present a bogus budget and then afterwards come spend monies as he wishes and then try to see how he can cover it up, like what he is going to do right now. So we felt that it is important that we're not going to sit down and give any kind of credence to what the Prime Minister as he's doing right now in the presentation of his bogus budget."
Jules Vasquez "Sir but aren't those phantom arguments in so far as we know there is a curiosity in the UDP constitution where the leader, if he is Prime Minister remains leader until he demits office as Prime Minister, number one. Number two, we know that appropriations, the man behind you Mr. Musa as the Minister of Finance, pursed many supplementary appropriations. It is a norm, a very bad one in the running of government."
Hon. John Briceno "Well first of all, I don't know what kind of phantom argument you're talking about because the UDP constitution cannot trump the Belizean constitution, the Belizean constitution is the supreme law of the land, let's start off with that. Secondly, whether it was done before and it continues to be done today, it was wrong then, it is wrong now."