Last night, we took you to Belmopan for a very unusual House Meeting, where only 7 representatives attended, and they all wore masks. They were there to pass a single motion: to extend the State of Emergency by 60 days.
The Opposition, on the other hand, thinks that it should only be extended for 30 days, and that clash of interpretations played out again at today's Senate Debate - with the social partners somewhere in the middle.
Because of Social Distancing, the meeting of the Upper Chamber included only 2 UDP Senators, 1 PUP Senator, 1 Senator representing the Social Partners, the President of the Senate, and the Clerk of the National Assembly.
We have a few excerpts from that heated debate, which included a bit of finger-pointing:
Hon. Michel Chebat, PUP Senator
"We are here today to extend the state of emergency for 60 more days, but do you know what has happened these past 30 days? Very simply no jobs which means no money, which means no food, which means Mr. President that people are hungry and that means that people are desperate. Do you understand the gravity of this? No jobs, no money. According to the Prime Minister 88,000 people have applied for the unemployment benefit. That program after one month has now been closed. Of the 88,000 people, 33,771 applications have been approved, but only 23,680 have actually been paid out and this is from the Prime Minister's televised interview last week Thursday. These are where these figures are coming from Mr. President. And so in effect only 27% of those persons who have ask for help have actually received the help. We have people waiting weeks and weeks to get an answer and still many of them are still waiting. The reality is that tens of thousands of Belizeans families are going to bed hungry, because they have not received their food packages."
"Mr. President I challenge this government to show us, show the people of Belize how they decide who gets a food package. People complain that they have not been receiving it, but yet they have seen supporters of the UDP getting. Here we are dealing with a pandemic; we are not dealing with parties. Here we are dealing with the people of Belize; we are dealing with people who are hungry. Do you know what it means to be hungry in this room? None of us knows. You could feed your family, I could feed my family, we are not feeling that pain, but the people out there know what it means to be hungry and it is easy for us to come here and pass a law for 60 more days when we are failing to deliver basic food to the most needy of our people."
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General
"The Prime Minister in his great wisdom said to us in cabinet and to his parliamentary caucus, we must reach across the divide and include the opposition in an oversight committee where myself and the Leader of the Opposition would be equals for the purposes of Covid-19. Where we are now listen to the debates yesterday, listen to the representatives for the PUP today serve the Prime Minister right you know, the PUP will never change and the PUP will always oppose for opposing sake especially when the situation doesn't serve them."
"Don't you get the feeling that the PUP almost wish that the Covid-19 situation was so much worse than it is? It's like they are almost upset that we have it under control. They've been dying to have it go so bad so that the government and Dean Barrow can be blamed. Stop! It is completely and utterly irresponsible for you to keep spreading this silly notion that the economy and the country will be lock down for 2 months. That is not an accurate statement. First of all we are asking for 2 more months, we could have ask for 12 more months, in total we could have ask for 12, but we ask for 2 months to give us enough breeding space till the end of June for us to make sure we take all the measures that we need to take to tackle Covid-19. But all you have to do is read the motion. And it says here section 18-5 of the Belize constitution provides that a proclamation made by the Governor General for the purposes of and in accordance with section 18 of the constitution shall unless previously revoked remain in force for a period not exceeding one month and this is what we are doing now, but may be extended from time to time by a resolution pass by the national assembly for further periods not exceeding in respect of each such extension a period of 12 months and may be revoked at any time by a resolution of the national assembly."
"You think that the government want this country in a state of national emergency? We don't want that, we want to go back to normal, but we have a responsibility to keep our people safe. We are doing it for 2 months, but if after one month we can lift it, we lift it. If after 2 weeks we lift it, we lift it."
Hon. Elena Smith, Senator Representing Social Partners
"We want our people to be safe. If that wasn't the greatest thing that we wanted right now, safety for our people, we wouldn't be where we are, we wouldn't be under this state of emergency. I truly believe that is for us as a nation to help our people to be safe, as much as possible to be free of further, if you will, contamination. We've seen Mr. President where yes we've only had 18 cases, that is true and we must commend our health people - those persons our nurses and doctors who have been on the frontline addressing this matter, because it could be worse. It's not over yet, but it could be worse and we must say thank God that we only had 18 cases so far and we must hope and pray that it remains that way."
"The effects of this pandemic as I just said is great. We are under a state of emergency, our people have lost a lot of our liberties which you hear them complaining about. We saw persons being arrested for going to the river or to the sea, because the moment they think there is a break they want to make much of it. We are not a people accustomed to being locked in and so even though I am not the kind of person who walks everywhere and visits and that kind of thing, I am always home to work and work to home, after a while it does takes a toll on you. But we must understand as a people that we must abide by the rules if we are going to continue to be safe and to be free of this disease and so yes we've lost some of our liberties, but we have to understand that it is not going to be for long."
At the end of the meeting, Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte called for a division in the Senate on the motion to extend the State of Emergency. After a small back-and-forth between him and President Darrell Bradley, it was decided that the division was not needed and that the motion was successfully passed. All that remains now is the Governor General's signature to make it official.