The Belize Peace Movement (BPM) is calling out the Elections and Boundaries Commission for gross negligence of its legal duty. The BPM stated in a press release that in August, they received a letter that conceded that the Commission failed to produce and submit the legally mandated annual reports of its activities since 2010. The Chairman of the BPM, Robert Lopez was on our morning show and spoke about the importance of the reports as it relates to the redistricting case.
Robert Lopez, Chairman, Belize Peace Movement: “By law the Representation of the People Act section 10 (3) provides that the commission shall within three months of the close of a calendar year submit to the Governor General annual reports of its activities along with any recommendations it may wish to make. We felt those reports were very important because it would tell us if the redistricting had been brought up, when it had been brought up. We received no response from them and then we had given them fourteen days to respond. On August 17th we went public with a release. The first letter was privately to the new chairman by the way and we hold him in high esteem, we believe he will do the right thing but on August 17 having heard no response or acknowledgment we then went public and I believe Love FM even after that release contacted the Elections and Boundaries who promised to get back to them with regards to this request. So this release speaks to a response that we did eventually get from the Elections and Boundaries. Now what we find very strange is that the Elections and Boundaries of course you all know is a constitutional body, in other words what we find it is the Elections and Boundaries Department that is replying to us on behalf of the commission. We see that certainly as a little incestuous and so we were hoping we would hear direct from the commission or the chairman.”
According to Lopez the letter further confirms that for the last thirty years, the reports were filed intermittently. The Chair of Legal Affairs for the BPM, Hubert Enriquez noted that there is no penalty for failure to submit an annual report.
Robert Lopez, Chairman, Belize Peace Movement: “What is more astounding and I’ll just read one of the paragraphs from the letter. It says “The Elections and Boundaries have clarified with the Office of the Governor General that it appears that the commission’s reports were filled intermittently over the years 1979 to 2010. Since then, since 2010 there appears to be no records of any commission reports being filed. We are currently working on these reports by reviewing the past minutes and will provide the requested reports as soon as they’re available.” You know this is gross negligence on the part of the commission because by law they’re expected to report to the Governor General with these annual reports that are legally mandated and so it simply shows that the commission is not living up to it’s mandates and so here we are.”
While the Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamai does not speak on behalf of the Commission she did speak to our newsroom on what a redistricting exercise would entail and why it is not practical to have this exercise prior to the elections.
Josephine Tamai, Chief Elections Officer: “Well actually it’s redrawing of the boundaries. We know that in Belize we’re unique geographically in all different ways but going into an election it’s the same amount of staff that we basically have. The staff will have to be moved from concentrating on an election, focusing on preparing for an election and trying to see how best we could do the boundaries because as much as we could say you draw the boundaries and yes you might have some technology to do certain things; looking at what happened in 2003 you had some of the boundaries that were actually passing through a person’s house some required that you actually physically visit. You can’t have the kitchen in one constituency and the living room in another, that actually happened before so because of the uniqueness of how these are drawn some of them actually require a physical visit. In some countries you would have a specific body who deals with the redistricting itself but for us it’s the same staff, the same department, the same commission, the same persons who have to deal with votes.”
According to the BPM they are still awaiting an official response from the Commission on this issue. They are also calling on the government to place the responsibility and authority for conducting elections under an autonomous civil society body, and equip that body with the appropriate budgetary support.