Minister Usher says the Redistricting Task Force needed more time
The Redistricting Report – it is a document that is widely debated in recent weeks. The proposed changes are being rejected and questioned in many corners including several of the elected Area Representatives and the Leader of the Opposition. As a matter of fact, several residents in Caye Caulker have signed onto a petition rejecting the proposal to have them placed under the Fort George division. Recently, we have interviewed several persons regarding the report, but it isn’t until today that a comprehensive explanation has been given as to why the report may not be in its best form. Minister of Public Service and Chairman of the People’s United Party, Henry Charles Usher, spoke to the media today, saying that a more pragmatic report could have been produced if the court had allowed for it to be done after the census was finalized.
Henry Charles Usher, Minister of the Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform: “There are a couple of things with that redistricting exercise and it’s something that we’ve been talking about for some time. If you read section 90 of the constitution which governs redistricting, section 90 says very clearly that the Election and Boundaries Commission their duty is to look at the population, the entire population, the total population of the country. It doesn’t talk about voting population, it says population. Now it would have been very prudent if they had had the census to be able to do their work properly. So I think it’s very unfair that time constraint that was put on them and it was put on them because there was a pending case in court, I think it was Claim 55 of 2019 and to me an arbitrary date was given, July 17, that you had to have a report by July 17. We had proposed you know when the Election and Boundaries Commission were being faced with this claim why not wait a thirty days, sixty days until after the census why not set that date then but an arbitrary date of July 17 was was put forward. They were required to put forward their proposal without that but I’m sure that the proposals that the Election and Boundaries Commission finalized after the task force had done its work would have been much more informed if they had the benefit of the census. The task force is the ultimate body that deals with redistricting. It’s not done, or it can’t, the powers that they have, the authority that they have under the constitution should not be fettered in any way. But yes, they have all rights to consult with residents. They can consult other jurisdictions to see how redistricting exercises were done there. They can also look at what was done in the past but I think a proper reading of that section needs to be done because as I said it says population. Now it would have been very wise to use the census and we had hoped that the census would have been completed by now and hopefully it’s out by the end of the year but also because it’s a constitutional matter and if you look back one section to section 89 of the constitution, section 89 says there shall be 31 constituencies in the country. That’s very straightforward language. So if there’s a change in any of the constituencies an amendment to that section would have to be done. Now there’s an exercise being done to comprehensively look at the Constitution. So all of that, I believe, caused an unfair situation to the task force, caused an unfair situation to the Election and Boundaries Commission. And so what you have is a proposal that does not have all of the information that it should have. As to the petition from some members of Caye Caulker I think it’s a bit premature because as I said, there is something, the proposal hasn’t even gone to the National Assembly again but certainly the citizens of this country have every right to petition the way they want.”
Minister Usher further spoke on the mandate of the Election and Boundaries Commission. He explained that what is in question is whether the commission and other stakeholders really understand what the scope of their undertaking.
Henry Charles Usher, Minister of the Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform: “Again, the Election and Boundaries Commission are tasked with doing this exercise. And what they’re tasked in doing is to look at the total population and perhaps change the boundaries of the constituencies. Now, if they feel that there should be an addition to any constituencies they can make that proposal and then Parliament votes on it. There’s nowhere in any part, section 89, 90, nowhere that says they can remove any constituency. So I’m wondering if that’s even an authority that they have, a power that they have to remove a constituency. It says there are 31 constituencies from time to time Election and Boundaries, looking at the total population, can look at the boundaries of those constituencies and if they feel that there needs to be more constituencies then they can propose that to the National Assembly. But there’s nowhere that says, you know what, let’s remove a constituency, you have the power to remove a constituency. So I think there are some legal questions that have to be answered and I think that’s why it’s very important. The language is a bit not too clear in that section. So I think it’s important that the PCC takes a look at it and that specific guidelines are given to the Election and Boundaries Commission as to what they can and what they can’t do and if they are appointing a task force, what that task force can and cannot look at. Belize Rural South used to include Caye Caulker and Belize Rural South included areas in Belize district as well. In the past there was Belize Rural North and Belize Rural South. Belize Rural Central was added in. Belize Rural South included areas like Boom in fact it was at Gales Point. Gales Point was part of Belize Rural South, including Caye Caulker and San Pedro. So there is precedent for an island to be part of the mainland. So that has happened in the past. So I think it’s something, yes, the Constitution talks about looking at geography. Well, the specific wording they say is the physical attributes of the constituency but we also have to take into account how it worked in the past as well.”