Elections Affect Court Cases Brought by Opposition

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Updated: September 30, 2015

With the announcement of Election Day come disruptions in various sectors.  One area where this was seen today was at the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court of Belize has made the decision to postpone one case discontinue another as a result of the upcoming elections.  There is the case surrounding the Cayo Northeast electoral decision in which Orlando Habet, PUP’s Standard Bearer versus the Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamai.  This case was discontinued with no order made for costs.  Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman reportedly said that the events have now overtaken the case, making the exercise now academic.  Habet and two of his constituents had hoped to convince Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel to review – and possibly overturn – the decision of Chief Elections Officer Tamai to reject hundreds of signatures collected for the recall of Elvin Penner in 2013, for varying reasons.  Residents of the division, rallied by the PUP, signed the petition in a bid to trigger a recall of Penner for alleged wrongdoing in the issuance of a Belize passport to South Korean businessman Wong Hong Kim while he was in a prison in Taiwan.  A total of 337 signatures were rejected, causing the petition to fall short of the threshold for recall by 79.  However, the petitioners contended that there were instances where individuals who signed the petition and were rejected because they were not on the official voters’ list have been found to in fact be there; and additionally, persons whose signatures were said not to match the official record, or who signed more than once, should not be disenfranchised as the law is not hard and fast on the issue.  A recall petition can only be laid once per division in each electoral cycle. The threshold to force recall is 65% of the electorate and a simple majority.  Anthony Sylvestre and Senior Counsel Michel Chebat appeared along with Senior Counsel Shoman, and Nigel Hawke, the Deputy Solicitor General, appeared for CEO Tamai and the Attorney General.  Meanwhile, the other case affected was to have featured preliminary arguments pitting the country’s Leader of the Opposition, Francis Fonseca, against Prime Minister Dean Barrow over the issue of the appointment of a thirteenth member of the Senate, before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, but that was postponed until November 30 for report.  In this matter, the UDP had presented amendments to the Constitution to bring in a 13th Senator, representing non-governmental organizations as part of its 2008 manifesto. But in 2010 the Prime Minister had a sudden turnaround and has declined to implement Sections 7 and 9 of the Constitutional amendment, citing fears of gridlock affecting Government programs. The NGO’s Belizeans for Justice and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) filed a case trying to force the implementation but fell short in arguments before former Acting Chief Justice Samuel Awich in 2011. The issue then lay dormant for several years even as the Prime Minister insisted he would not act to bring the amendments into force and said he regretted suggesting them.  In May, Fonseca and attorney Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay formally announced litigation to force Barrow’s hand, citing the lapse of a date at which all provisions of the law including Sections 7 and 9 would be brought into force. The delay in instituting the claim, they said, is due to alleged attempts by Government to interfere.  Fonseca said that a 13th Senator may have impacted recent attempts to find answers to allegations of Government corruption which the Senate is normally empowered to investigate, but which attempts to initiate such investigations were thwarted by the Government.