The Eleventh Amendment – it continues to be a Live issue particularly for the Leader of the Opposition, Moses Shyne Barrow who believes that he is being targeted by the government. Barrow has spoken out on the amendment and has even taken the issue to the international stage explaining that this amendment seeks to prevent convicted persons from seeking a seat within the National Assembly. Minister Julius Espat spoke to Love News on the issue and declared that the matter has absolutely nothing to with Barrow, but rather it is part and parcel of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) that the unions and public have been clamoring for.
Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing: “He can allege what he wants. This is to be able to elevate parliament to a certain level that we can have respect for the people that represent us. This is to be able to have a minister of government, or a future prime minister not having a criminal record representing our country. This is to make sure that your representative of government can go to the United States. How can you imagine having a minister of government without even being able to get a visa because of his criminal record to go to another state? This is about inspiring young people to do and not to do bad. This has absolutely nothing to do with reform you can be reformed. You can become a pastor, a bank manager you can become a CEO, you can become a Music Ambassador you can become whatever you want but we want to have parliamentarians, raise the level where that we can inspire the young people to do goo. We have politicians right now that come out of the same environment from the south side, that have been raised by single mothers that have never committed crime that have never been convicted of anything, and are no representing their people, that is what we want. We want to inspire the younger ones to do good. And so I don’t see anything to do with anything personal. It is, and it’s a matter of the UNCAC as part of the good governance is recommending that you elevate the level of the people that represent the country in Parliament. It is part of the UNCAC. So we are just following the good governance aspect of doing things. If somebody wants to take in personal again, that is their democratic right they have all the rights to make noise and to do interviews in the United States and bring a foreign culture to try to influence us. We want Belizeans with our local culture to influence our decisions.”
Shortly after speaking with Minister Espat, our newsroom met up with former Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte who dealt personally with the UNCAC and knows all too well the convention’s requirements. We asked him to comment on Espat’s interview that signals the UNCAC as the rationale behind the Eleventh Amendment.
Michael Peyrefitte, UDP Chairman: “In the UNCAC talks about raising the bar for a number of different thing but UNCAC’s main thrust was transparency and fullness and frankness and no convention in my view, no convention in my view can override the fundamental principle of our criminal justice system which is reform. You know when the Honorable Shyne Barrow put his name down to be elected for Mesopotamia the people of Mesopotamia knew he had spent ten years in prison you know. This is a matter where the people knew the circumstances of the candidates that they had to choose from and the people said we believe that a person can reform, we believe that a person can change and a person can serve us and the will of the people of Mesopotamia has Shyne Barrow there and event though the constitution is the supreme law I don’t think it is more supreme than the will of the people. And what you’re telling people is that there is no reform for a person who has spent more than a year in prison. If I do something regrettable at nineteen years old and at forty five years old I’m a changed person I can do anything within the society except represent the people ? It is ridiculous and even though UNCAC talks about raising the bar on so many things it definitely did not go so far as to say that anybody with any criminal record or who has spent certain amount of years in prison cannot run for office. I was reading an article the other day where when you talk about percentage there was a higher percentage of members of the US congress who were felons than felons were a percentage of the US population so I am not aware that any major nation per say has a rule where if you have spent more than one year in jail you cannot run for office again. I think as long as that is disclosed people know that you have a record and people can decide if they want to believe that you have reformed or not.”