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Belize Network of NGOs Calls Out GOB on Tenth Amendment Bill

The Belize Network of NGOs is tonight calling out the Briceno Administration over the Belize Constitution’s Tenth Amendment Bill. The tenth amendment to the constitution is expected to be read a second time during the Sitting of the House of Representatives on Friday and possibly a third time on the same day. The Tenth Amendment seeks to provide an additional ground for vacating the office of a member of the Belize Advisory Council, the Election and Boundaries Commission, the Public Services Commission and the Security Services Commission. In order words, this forces members of these bodies to resign at the next dissolution of the National Assembly. Senator for NGOs, Osmany Salas says two letters have been sent to Prime Minister John Briceno and both have gone unanswered.

Osmany Salas, Senator for NGOs: “Even though several sectors have raised very valid concerns we notice that it is on the agenda for tomorrow at the House meeting where seemingly the government intends to carry it through it’s second and third reading. It would then once that happens because the government has the super majority they do not need a single opposition vote for the 10th amendment bill to pass then that would mean that it would make it to the Senate next week Wednesday when the Senate meets. So that is why we felt the need to issue out a press release. The four social partner senators wrote to the Prime Minister on the whole matter of constitutional amendment at the end of June and the middle of August and we have yet to receive a response.”

Reporter: What’s the position in terms of consultation ? Do you believe that adequate and appropriate consultations were had ? 

Osmany Salas, Senator for NGOs:Well you could answer that in a couple different ways. One, the government has done what is laid out in the constitution and the constitution for any constitutional amendment the constitution says that there has to be this ninety day waiting period after the amendment bill has been read the first time. A ninety day gestation period or a waiting period to give the public the opportunity to express their concerns. So they’ve done that, they have ticked the checklist and that has been done. There is also the eleventh amendment on the table that is still within this ninety day waiting period so it would be interesting after that period ends what the government will do with that. So they’ve checked the boxes. Now if it’s adequate now that’s a whole other matter because amending our constitution in a piecemeal fashion which for all intents and purposes it’s tinkering with the constitution is not healthy for our democracy.”

In the letters sent to the Prime Minister, the Social Partner Senators requested that assurance be given that the four affected bodies will, “be free from political interference”; their integrity and impartiality protected. The government has the super majority and at this point, votes from the Opposition Party aren’t needed to pass a bill to amend the constitution. Senator Salas says that amending the Belize Constitution shouldn’t be so easy.

Osmany Salas, Senator for NGOs: “There is a reason why our constitution set up the membership of these commissions in way that they are not fully replaced whenever elections are called. There is a reason for that. We don’t want to politicize the functions of these commissions. These are constitutionally appointed commissions so to have three amendments to the constitution in a matter of a few months really was I think taking it too far. The ninth amendment I think which had to do with the membership of the Advisory Council was passed that was in a way sort of innocuous one, for a manner of speaking harmless one and that passed but then came the tenth and then the eleventh and as I mentioned before might does not always make right. The administration has the numbers to pass this after the ninety day waiting period without having to worry about getting any votes from the opposition. When it comes to the Senate now as we know the government does not have the majority in the Senate but they seem to be very confident that they will have the numbers to get it passed and I don’t know. But the four social partner senators are on record that we are concerned with the approach the government is taking and that has prompted us to recommend that along the lines of what Chile is doing that it is an opportunity we have, the supermajority we should look at it in a positive way it is an opportunity we have to do a comprehensive revisit of our constitution and with broad based involvement of the different key sectors.”

And while the Government has the super majority in the House of Representatives, it doesn’t necessarily control the Senate which is where the Bill will naturally proceed for ratification. We asked Senator Salas if the Senate has the power to block the amendment.

Reporter: This press release issued by you and the BNN has little force because as you mentioned the government has supermajority and come Friday the tenth amendment will be read a second, possibly a third time. So one would question what’s the point of this press release or is it that it can be blocked in the Senate ?

Osmany Salas, Senator for NGOs: “No well I mean we would hope that level heads would prevail and the government would see the wisdom in taking it off the table. The fact that the four social partner senators are on record that we have our concerns about the piecemeal approach to amending our constitution we would have hoped would give government pause and say ‘Hey we need to relook at this, to look at this gain.’ and yeah as you suggested this has to come to the Senate so the Senate is empowered to debate and to vote on the bill. It will be interesting what happens. I cannot tell you what will happen but in the Senate the government does not have the numbers. As you know on the government side there are six senators and on the non government side if I would include the social partner senators and the opposition and that’s seven so I cannot say how each of the non government senators will vote but if it turns out that the vote is not in government’s favor then it would be interesting to see what the government does. So when a bill is voted down or is not passed or is left in committee in the Senate there’s good reason for that and then it would then be sent back to the House and that would be as far as the Senate can go. Once it goes back to the House and back to the Senate a second time we can debate it but in that case we can’t stop it. So I understand what you mean about little force the powers of the Senate are limited in that respect but we would hope that our voices will be heard and that level heads would prevail.”

The BNN and the Social Partner Senators are now calling for a comprehensive constitutional reform process.