|Hon. John Saldivar and Hon. Patrick Faber.|
|Mr. Perez takes the mike to comment at the forum. |
Packed in the 7th Constitutional Amendment proposed by the Government of Belize (GOB) are three main amendments which were consulted by the Foreign Affairs and Constitution Committee in San Pedro Town last Thursday at the Lions Den. Those amendments include the change of the Privy Council to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Belize’s final appellate Court, the appointment of an Attorney General that is not a member of either house within the National Assembly and the qualification of holders of dual nationality to be a member of either house within the National Assembly. Government introduced the bill on June 19th, 2009 and thereafter has at least 90 days (until September 15th) for public consultation. Once public consultations have been finalized there will be a second reading which will be up for debate at the House of Representatives.
Even though the consultation was not publicized in the local media, a few residents still made it to the Lions Den to listen and express their views on the proposed amendments. To begin the consultation Philip Palacio, a representative from the Attorney General’s Office, presented the proposed amendments. Chairman of the Committee, Honorable Patrick Faber proceeded with introducing members of the head table which include Honorable John Saldivar, Honorable Ramon Witz and Honorable Nemencio Acosta; no member of the Opposition was present.
Once the reading of the proposed amendments was finalized, a question and answer session was conducted and people were given the opportunity to present their comments. There was no opposition to the section of the amendment that deals with the change of the appellate court from the Privy Council to the CCJ. One of the comments directed to the head table was the fact that while the UDP was in opposition and the amendment was brought up at the House of Representatives, the opposition clearly was against making CCJ the final court. Honorable Faber highlighted the fact that there were other issues of national importance that as opposition, they felt GOB needed to address before the issue of the CCJ. Faber also stated that another reason they refused to vote in favor of the bill on two previous occasions was that they were also demanding that constituency funds be increased to Area Representatives.
While no one spoke in favor of the second proposed amendment that details the appointment of an Attorney General, there were at least two people that refuted the proposed amendment. As it stands, the Attorney General (AG) is the principal advisor to the Government of Belize (GOB) and must be a member of either House of the National Assembly (House of Representative or Senate). The new amendment proposes that the AG may be from outside the National Assembly. In his opening remarks, Faber stated that there are qualified practicing attorneys that can become excellent AGs but would not like to get caught up in the politics of the country. One resident questioned the real intention behind the proposed change in the constitution. “If something is working fine, why change it,” stated another member. “I can’t see why government wants to push this agenda if the law as it stands makes provision to appoint a Senator who can then be appointed as Attorney General without being involved in the ‘nitty gritty’ of politics.”
One section of the amendment that received opposition by most of the residents was the proposed amendment that will qualify holders of dual nationality to be either member of the House of the National Assembly. As it stands, the law allows for Belizeans (born or nationalized) to run for public office providing that the person is a citizen of Belize alone. In other words, all members of the Senate and the House of Representative must be Belizean only. By adding 11 words behind the existing clause that disqualifies a member of National Assembly, it automatically allows for holders of dual nationality to qualify to be members of the National Assembly. One after the other, various members of the community stood before the microphone to make their points. One stated that, “government is not protecting the playing field for politics; it is only making it more open,” “Belizeans and only Belizeans must decide the fate of Belize,” stated another. “Whoever wants to represent us must be like us,” stated another.
Throughout the consultation, Faber assured the gathering that the views and concerns expressed would be taken into the consideration before government takes the proposed amendments for a second reading. Notable is that while most of the people who spoke refuting the proposed amendments, the only two people who spoke in favor of these were Area Representative Honorable Manuel Heredia Jr. and Mayor Elsa Paz.