9th Amendment Bill passed - 10/22/11 02:25 PM
Just after the four o’clock this afternoon, the ninth Amendment Bill to the constitution, which was touted around the country in a highly politicized road show, came to pass. The governments super majority in the House, all twenty-four voted yah, there were three no’s from the Opposition’s side, and one abstention from Orange Walk East Marcel Cardona who spoke against the ninth but did not vote against the bill for fear of losing his seat. There was flurry of activity outside parliament as thousands of U.D.P. supporters were bused in to show government’s muscle. We start our detailed coverage of today’s proceedings with the Prime Minister as he gave his reasons for the bill which has been rejected by numerous organizations.
“These changes have come about in response to concerns that came right at the start of public consultations. We are indebted to those who articulated the concerns; in particular we are grateful to the Belize Evangelical of Churches and the Belize Council of Churches. Their advocacy which we knew to be genuine and unbiased persuaded us early to agree to amendments. As the consultations and public debate continued, we became convinced that there should be a change additionally to the ones agreed to by the churches. The first is that all language in the bill that purported to oust the jurisdiction of the courts is removed. Thus in the new subsection nine of section sixty-nine which is in clause three of the bill; the house committee has deleted all of the following: “And the law passed by the National Assembly to alter any provisions of the constitution which is passed in conformity of this section shall not be open to challenge in any court of law on any grounds whatsoever.” All those words as the chairman of the constitution and foreign affairs committee detailed in his report—all those words have been removed. In subsection one of section one-forty-five and that is clause four of the bill; the committee is also deleting the words: “And no court shall inquire into constitutionality, legality and validity of the said acquisitions notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in section seventeen, section twenty or any other provision of this constitution or any other law or rule of practice.” And subsection two of one-forty-five is being deleted in its entirety. That is the subsection that said; “the bar on the jurisdiction of the court contained in subsection one above is absolute and no court shall assume jurisdiction on any ground whatsoever, including without limitation any alleged ground of lack of jurisdiction in the person making the said acquisition orders or any ground alleging breach of the role of natural justice.”
I had a discussion with one of the social grouping organizers and I said to him, you tell me how it is that the ninth constitution amendment bill will affect your rights sir. You tell me what is in there that will say that you can’t go to court to challenge any executive action, to challenge any law passed by the legislature on the basis that it is unconstitutional? You tell me how it will affect your business? You tell me how it will affect you from running up your long mouth? And Mister Speaker, he couldn’t answer. There is nothing in the bill to which he could point and say this will affect me individually.
Even the Ashcroft alliance, the previous owners of Telemedia, the bill provides for their full and proper compensation to be paid. They have no right not to have their property acquired. They have a right not to have their property acquired without provisions being made for compensation. So not even their rights are being affected by the bill. But leaving them aside, which Belizean will suffer as a consequence of this bill? And I am saying I here to tell you Mr. Speaker, there will be no other constitutional amendment that will trample on Belizeans’ rights. We in terms of the eighth constitutional amendment thought that a tradeoff was necessary given where we were in terms of crime. Well the people said to us, absolutely not and I am here to tell you, not a next constitutional amendment will be brought back to this house by this government.”
Barrow also alleged that members of the House were offered million dollar bribes to either abstain from voting or to vote no on the ninth. No specific person was named.
Said Musa says 9th takes away rights
The P.U.P. held a meeting at Independence Hall in Belize City in which it was decided that Fort George Area Representative Said Musa would appear as Leader of the Opposition for today’s House Meeting. But Musa did not receive a majority support from three of the elected parliamentarians and so today there was no Leader of the Opposition in the House. Mark Espat, Cordel Hyde and John Briceño, who did not support Musa, were all absent from today’s sitting. But the former prime minister sounded like the Leader of the Opposition in the House when he took PM Barrow to school on the purpose of the amendment and why he believes it takes away rights and freedoms from citizens.
Said Musa, Fort George Area Representative
“We should all note that the government has already taken over these public utilities even before these bills. The government already has majority ownership and control of B.T.L., B.E.L. and BWSL. What the bill seeks to do is amend the constitution to ensure that for all times, forever, the government in perpetuity will always have majority control and I believe that’s what the Prime Minister has emphasizing today. The question that must be asked is: Why is the government tampering with constitution to do this when they have not even settled compensation, which they will have to pay—whether that government or a future? Why is government doing this when their very first takeover of B.T.L. has been declared unlawful and invalid by Court of Appeal? And if they felt the court was wrong, the Court of Appeal—the highest Court in Belize, why did they not appeal the decision? Why instead did they use the force of the police and the army to take back control of B.T.L. in defiance of the judgment of the Court of Appeal? This I submit Mr. Speaker with yet another clear demonstration of this government’s arrogant abuse of power that they seem to believe that might make right. In fact that was not nationalization; it was expropriation of private property as the court found. In other words, in the view of the government it seems, the court can say what it wants, but it’s the Prime Minister and his supermajority in the house that runs things and can do whatsoever they want. To hell with the rule of law; that seems to be their attitude.
The ninth amendment Mr. Speaker is not only about nationalization, it’s about gutting the constitution of Belize, putting the supreme law of Belize in a state of total paralysis—incapable of rejecting any future change of the constitution; even if the change is a deliberate attempt to take away any of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens of Belize.”
Leader to be, Francis Fonseca, opposes 9th
The new Leader of the P.U.P. will be Francis Fonseca. Fonseca will be officially installed on October twenty ninth. But the Freetown Area Representative, even though he only had the company of Said Musa and Florencio Marin Junior, rose to give his perspective on the ninth. Unlike the trashing that Barrow eventually gave to Musa, kindness was offered to Fonseca when Michael Finnegan offered words of advice.
Francis Fonseca, P.U.P. Leader (Designate)
“Belizeans from all walks of life have loudly proclaimed their opposition to the amendment. As others have pointed out on this side, prominent Belizean organizations have been united and vocal about their opposition to the amendment; including the Bar Association, the Belize Chamber of Commerce, B.N.T.U., Belizeans for Justice, COLA and just yesterday, APAMO. You can call all of them P.U.P.; eventually everybody will be P.U.P. COLA and APAMO have all strongly registered their opposition to this bill. This bill if enacted would critically reduce the essential safeguard of judicial scrutiny of constitutional changes. The bar association stated definitely that this amendment has the effect of removing constitutional supremacy which is the bedrock of our constitutional democracy and replacing it with parliamentary supremacy in direct contravention of the intention of our founding fathers as stated in section two and on the fundamental principles on which the nation of Belize was founded.”
Michael Finnegan, Minister of Housing
“I want to congratulate my colleague from Freetown on his elevation to higher heights in his party. And my congratulations are sincere. This country, it is important that we have a strong opposition in this country to protect the interest of this people of this country. There was once a time where only three of us were across there and I can appreciate how you feel sitting across there, but Mister Speaker, I want to give one advice to my colleague on that side from Freetown Division. There is lot of fighting and rumbling within your party and your job is to put it afloat and to let it sail on quiet waters. For god almighty sake, don’t have that one there, the lunatic, join your band.”