Cabinet at its meeting today considered the Equal Opportunities Bill, 2020. The bill seeks to promote equal opportunities and to address discrimination, stigma and violence by prohibiting certain forms of conduct and encouraging proactive steps to be taken to address unjust disparities and barriers in order to promote the core Belizean values of fairness, respect, and justice.
The decision was taken to not proceed with the bill at this time and to withdraw it. While this is Cabinetís position, it views with deep regret the circumstances surrounding the bill being brought before the Cabinet for its approval which is a mere part of the legislative process.
While for some there might have been genuine consternation, it is regrettable that there was purposeful misinformation from some stakeholders. The legislative process allows opportunities for the venting and redressing of such legitimate concerns. The Cabinet wishes to make the following clear in this regard:
(a) that there was never an intent to pass such legislation without the due process being afforded that would include proper consideration by members of Cabinet, proper ventilation of the issues in both Houses of Parliament; proper opportunities for stakeholders to voice their concerns and for such concerns to be addressed (primarily through presentations to the relevant House Committee(s).
(b) that there are very good elements of the bill that would bring about tremendous benefits for the Belizean people especially as it relates to issues having to do with but not limited to our aging population, breastfeeding, persons with disabilities, family responsibilities, gender, HIV positive status, maternity, political opinion, industrial activity, irrelevant criminal record, lawful sexual activity, political opinion, pregnancy, race, religious activity, sex, sexual orientation, status as a person who is experiencing or has experienced domestic violence, status as an orphan and a few other statuses.
The Cabinet reiterates to the Belizean people its commitment to fight for the rights of all. It continues to view with urgency the need to protect those who are discriminated against, harassed and victimized in any way and pledges to continue seeking ways to achieve such objectives.
Re: Cabinet to Withdraw Equal Opportunities Bill
#544963 09/17/2004:25 AM09/17/2004:25 AM
Last night, we told you about the protests which opponents of the Equal Opportunities Bill staged in different parts of the country under the hashtag, "KillTheBill."
They sent a clear signal to the Barrow Government that if they attempted to table the legislation at today's House meeting, they would strenuously resist it.
The National Aids Commission and their legislative draft-persons were attempting to provide protection for Belizeans suffering 19 different forms of discrimination. But, the most controversial group that would be protected under this proposed law was the local gay community. This special interest group was already a red-flag for the conservative-minded opponents, but they insist that the bill overreaches on other areas as well. They were even asserting that parts of the law were in conflict with the constitution.
Late yesterday evening, the Government sent out a press release announcing that they were not going to table it in today's House Meeting. So, it made for an interesting moment when Brother Fem Cruz, who was leading the parliamentarians in an opening prayer, publicly thank the Almighty for this change in course. He did so in the presence of House Speaker Laura Longsworth, who is the Chair of the National AIDS Commission, and one of the key advocates of the Bill. Here are those moments in today's House Meeting, followed by a conversation with the Prime Minister on the bill's last-minute withdrawal:
Brother Fem Cruz: "Father, we thank you for this EOB, equal opportunity bill that will be struck out today."
Speaker of the House: "Good morning honorable members, I see we started off with a little humor this morning, that's good."
Hon. Anthony Boots Martinez: "Madam Speaker in accordance with standing order 62 I withdraw the Equal Opportunity Bill 2020."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "I think cabinet could have supported the bill pretty much in its entirety , I don't â€¦it is a long bill ,it is a big document so I can't speak to each of the sections, each provision in any sort of detail but by and large cabinet felt that this is a good bill, this is a necessary bill, it is an overdue bill and cabinet was very upset at having to make the decision not to proceed with it, why did that decision come? The churches principally and I am not talking about the Evangelical churches, we always knew what their position would be and I think we were prepared to contest that on the basis that to clear up the misconception that they obviously had, there was never any question of trying to rush through the bill on the same day to do the 3 sittings at once and so we felt that since there would be time for people to make their views known at a house committee meeting we are handling it the proper way but Monday night before the Tuesday cabinet meeting Bishop Philip Wright from the mainstream churches, the Belize Council of Churches messaged me to say that they could not, the council of churches could not support the bill as it now stands that's game set and match we are not going to go against all the churches , the Evangelicals plus the Belize Council of Churches. The suggestion seemed to be from the Bishop that if only there were more time perhaps the matter might have been able to be worked on so as to have us come to an agreement, fact is though that before this version came to cabinet as you know there had been widespread consultations and our reports were that the drafters attempted to take on board everything that in particular the Evangelicals said it does not mean that the new draft gave them all that they wanted or left out all that they wished to have left out but it certainly, I am convinced, made a huge leap forward. It strikes then that the evangelicals will oppose the bill, have opposed the bill in this form and will oppose any bill in a similar nature and that I personally think is backwards. So, it is my hope that whoever comes next will take up this bill right at the start, have some more consultations, have some more discussions and then I earnestly wish that some version of this bill would get passed by the new government."
The Equal Opportunities Bill was scheduled to be tabled in the House of Representatives this Wednesday, but it has now been shelved. Late this evening, the government confirmed that cabinet decided not to proceed with the bill at this time and to withdraw it. The government says that while for some there might have been genuine consternation; it is regrettable that there was purposeful misinformation from some stakeholders. Cabinet says that the bill contains very good elements that would bring about tremendous benefits to the aging population, persons with disabilities and those carrying HIV, gender issues, political opinion, religious activity, sexual orientation and domestic violence. Since it was made public in January by the National AIDS Commission, the language of the bill came under attack amid complaints that it was being rushed and time was needed for more consultations. Opposition was fast and furious from the churches and other groups. It is now likely that for the life of this government, it will not be taken to the House. The bill was drafted to deal with discrimination in various forms, but those who oppose the bill say that it is far reaching. As soon as word got out that it was in the agenda of the House, detractors started protests in various areas of the country. By midday, cabinet took a decision to pull it back. Here is Hipolito Novelo with a report.
Re: Cabinet to Withdraw Equal Opportunities Bill
#544977 09/17/2008:08 PM09/17/2008:08 PM