Eleventh Amendment Revived: Major Debate Ignites Over Disqualification of Persons with Criminal Records in Belize National Assembly
It was first brought up in 2011, then it seemed to have died upon arrival, but very much like the phoenix, the Eleventh Amendment has arisen and was the cause of a major debate in the House of Representatives. It is the Bill to amend the Belize Constitution, Chapter 4 of the substantive laws of Belize, revised edition 2011that seeks to disallow and disqualify persons with a criminal record to be a part of the National Assembly. After an extended debate, a division was done, and 25 of the 31 members voted in favor of the Eleventh Amendment. Perhaps the most interesting observations are that Denise Sista B Barrow did not even make an appearance to vote; Patrick Faber was absent, and Hugo Patt disappeared before the voting happened – that leaves two votes (Tracy Panton and Moses Barrow) for the opposition. For context on the debate, we bring you points presented from Hugo Patt of Corozal North and Michel Chebat of Cayo North.
Hugo Patt, Corozal North United Democratic Party: “We welcome a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner into Belize. We gave him Belizean nationality and we got him a home here in Belize. A complete stranger to Belize and Belizeans got his nationality documents, a house, and a second shot in life. And here we are today, Madam Speaker, passing a draconian bill. A bill that in my opinion violates constitutional rights of the Belizeans, violates the natural rights of the Belizeans, and it is an attack at the heart of democracy. Where is the priority of this administration? And so, Madam Speaker, all I will say at this point in time is just caution those members on the other side the international community is looking at what you guys are doing.”
Michel Chebat, Minister of Public Utilities, Energy, Logistics and E Governance: “It really goes to the quality of the people we have in the highest office of this land. And when I hear my friends on the other side speak they speak as if though there are no limits established in the constitution. The constitution is not a dead instrument. It is a living instrument Madam Speaker and when one looks at what the constitution contains the very section 58 which this law seeks to amend already has limitations Madam Speaker. So when you hear them speak they make it sound like this is the first time we are imposing rights and restrictions as to who can be in this honorable house and that is not the case. What it is is an expansion of those. And so I think it is important for the Belizean people to understand that. That when they hear the people on the other side, colleagues on the other side speak as if though there are no restrictions and limitations it is simply not so Madam Speaker. We all must be governed by rules. There must be rules for every institution in this country Madam Speaker and whether they like it or not actions have consequences and all of us, all off us are subject to the laws of this land whether we like it or not. Whether we like it or not. And this constitution and this amendment Madam Speaker sends a warning to everybody, all of us and all of our future leaders Madam Speaker. So I certainly support this amendment Madam Speaker.”
Area Representative for Fort George, Henry Charles Usher, responded to Patt, questioning his analogies, and disputing the idea that the amendment is a direct attack on the Leader of the Opposition who had served prison time in the United States for a night club shooting when he was 19-years-old.
Henry Charles Usher, Area Representative, Fort George: “The member from Corozal North speaking about Majid Khan and about reform, is the opposition suggesting that Majid Khan should run for this Honorable House? Is that what you are suggesting? So it is amazing that is the example that the member from Corozal North would actually bring. On the issue of reforming your life, Madam Speaker, that is something that should be encouraged. That is something that we should always strive toward. And perhaps the member from Mesopotamia, the Leader of the Opposition, believes that this is all about him and we know why he’s doing that. We know that’s because he has a camera crew and he wants to be the latest shiny princess for Disney. Right? That’s what he wants. But this is not about him. It is about raising the level in the House. It is about making or holding the members of this House to the highest standards, Madam Speaker. Something that the member from Albert spoke about. She has spoken about this, Madam Speaker, on numerous occasions. She has raised the issue of raising the standard in this House, about making sure the members of this House are of the highest standard. Madam Speaker, the member from Cayo North explained very well there are already disqualifications for being members of this House. It’s not like this is a new, this is just an amendment of an existing disqualification and it is an amendment that came out of UNCAC recommendations.”
At the end of it all, the votes were taken, and the second reading of the Eleventh Amendment went through, as confirmed by the Speaker of the House.
Valerie Woods, Speaker of the House of Representatives: “The division of the votes the results are 25 yes, 2 No, 4 absent.”
The Bill was sent to the House Committee, and is expected to return to Parliament for a third reading at the next sitting.