Prime Minister Dean Barrow presented the Belize (Territorial Dispute) Referendum Bill, 2019 just after ten o’clock this morning which saw the start of a series of debates between both sides of the House. The Bill calls for a referendum to occur which will determine whether Belize will go to the International Court of Justice for a final settlement on the claim by Guatemala. It was taken through its three readings in today’s session which brought on objections by the Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno.
Honorable Dean Barrow: “Madam Speaker in accordance with standing order number 491 I move that the bill is taken through all its stages forthwith.”
The leader of the Opposition Jon Bricenio: “ Madam Speaker I just want to record this sides objection for the bill to run through all the three stages this morning unless if the Prime Minister plans to hold the referendum within the next twenty days then there is absolutely no urgency to pass this today. I think the right thing to do is to lay on the table, present the first bill and then to allow to have a House committee meeting and allow others to come in and present their concerns, who have questions so I want to record madam Speaker our disagreement with that.”
Honorable Prime Minister Dean Barrow: “Madam Speaker if I could sit respond to that. I don’t know if, I suppose implicit in what they are saying is that they haven’t had enough time but that is a fine sentiment coming from people who after crafting the Special Agreement, agreeing to its ratification, promoting and supporting it for all these years, waited until the last moment before the referendum under their Special Agreement was to be held to go to court. They should not be talking about time.”
Madam Speaker: “Honorable Members the question is that the next stages of the bill be taken forthwith? All those in favor kindly say I. Those against kindly say no. The I’s have it.”
In the end, just as expected, the Bill had a majority in its favour and it will go to the Senate on Monday, April 15 for ratification. Opposition Leader Briceno also noted during his presentation this morning that contrary to what is being said in some corners, the PUP does want a referendum and they were not seeking to stop the referendum. Briceno also spoke of another concern that could see changes in the constitution.
The Leader of the Opposition John Bricenio: “We were the ones that introduced a law to hold a referendum. That is the deepest form of democracy that we can’t have in our country, where we are giving the people a opportunity to decide issues of national importance Madam Speaker. That is our record, so for them to even attempt to try to say that we want to stop a referendum is nothing further from the truth Madam Speaker. We want our referendum, we respect the right of the people to have to make that decision Madam Speaker but we have to get it right.”