With several months invested in the ICJ Referendum campaign, the Referendum office has taken the education sessions to pretty much every corner of the country. The office begun last year with a lecture series in all municipalities and proceeded to increase its outreach since January. Director of the Referendum Office, Ardelle Sabido says that the education campaign had not only been visible in the media. The office has been in villages through collaborative work with the District Association of Village Councils. They have also partnered with civil society and other interested parties. Our newsteam spoke with Ardelle Sabido last week on the progress of the campaign.
Ardelle Sabido Director, Referendum Officer: “We would like to think that the information is out there. We would like to think that we are touching every aspect. Can we do more? We can always do more.”
Dalila Ical: “Director of the Referendum Office Ardelle Sabido says they have conducted over 350 presentations including sessions with private companies, schools and communities all over the country. The unit has also been using the social media platform in their campaign.”
Ardelle Sabido Director, Referendum Officer: “This information has been out there for a very long time. People start saying well you know it is very rushed, we signed the agreements since 2008. This campaign has been going on for a very long time, people don’t realize that. It is not just when we started hearing about it in the news in the past year maybe year and a half.”
Dalila Ical: “There is also the criticism that the process has been highly politicized. Especially with government openly pushing a yes campaign.”
Ardelle Sabido Director, Referendum Officer: “There is always going to be the allegation there but if you attend one of presentations and you look at the information that we present for example we show you the question that is going to be on the ballot paper. We tell you what the ICJ means, how it works?, Who are the judges that sit on it? and really explain what the legal position of Belize is?, What the legal position of Guatemala is? There is no room for yes or no in there and that is factually accurate what we are giving you. You ask your question and sometimes it involves politics and we answer the best way we can because at the end of the day we are not politicians so we are not representing a political party. We work for the government and the government of Belize serves the people of Belize.”
Dalila Ical: “And how has the public embraced the process? For one Sabido says the political taint appears to be affecting young Belizean interest.”
Ardelle Sabido Director, Referendum Officer: “Statistically the younger generations are less interested in getting the information. From the presentations that we have done and just the feedback that people give you when you are presenting. The younger generations tend to be turned off by the integration of this national issue with domestic party politics. It turns them off, it turns off a lot of us but I think statistically we have seen and we have heard the voices of the young people and that is what turns them off so that is why we try and stick to the facts.”
Dalila Ical: “Still there are many who are drawn to the issues.”
Ardelle Sabido Director, Referendum Officer: “Statistically I can tell you that the most interested group will be over 35. They are interested in the claim, they have read some of the information, they want more information, they ask questions, that is 35 and up. I think the biggest concerns Belizean people have quite frankly is if we are going to lose land. I think the biggest issue people want to hear is whether we can win or lose and I think if you look at the facts and what we try to explain is that there is no possibility of losing land at the ICJ based on the law. That was the accomplishment of the Special Agreement that this issue is only going to be decided on international law which is different from domestic law.”
Dalila Ical: “As the campaign continues Belizeans are reminded that the final day to register is March 10.”
Ardelle Sabido Director, Referendum Officer: “We encourage you to get the information and get as much information as you would like and you decide.”
Dalia Ical: “Is there enough time to provide that information to Belizeans?”
Ardelle Sabido Director, Referendum Officer: “There is always enough time.”
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The Referendum Unit remains available for presentations in any and all sectors of communities across the country.