Newly appointed Senator for the United Democratic Party Michael Peyrefitte was sworn in today at the start of the Sitting of the Senate. And while Peyrefitte was present for today’s senate sitting, the Senator who is to represent the non-governmental organizations, Osmany Salas was not. Prior to today’s sitting a request had been sent to the President of the Senate, Lee Mark Chang to have the sitting delayed until the 13th senator commencement order takes effect tomorrow. Lead Opposition Senator Eamon Courtenay moved a motion to have the sitting adjourned.
Senator Eamon Courtenay
“Mr. President as you know, the 13th senator has been elected, he is awaiting the coming into force of the constitution and that comes into force tomorrow. I propose that the motion moved by the Honorable Leader of Government Business be amended to read, that at its rising now, this senate will stand adjourned until after the 20th of January in order that the 13th senator can attend and take part in the matters on the order paper. It is the motion to amend so that the senate adjourns now so that the 13th senator can participate in the matters on the order paper.”
Senator Elena Smith
“I would like to support the motion presented by Senator Courtenay that we adjourn so that our 13th senator can have a chance to represent the people that he should be representing.”
Lee Mark Chang – President of the Senate
“Senator Courtney I think based on your email to me and I think we have already discussed this matter and have already made a decision that the senate will proceed and also note that I have discussed it with my colleagues and we need the NGO act to pass in order for Senator Salas to be sworn in tomorrow. If it is not passed today, senator Salas will not be able to be sworn in tomorrow.
Senator Eamon Courtenay
“With respect, first of all, I have moved an amendment to the motion and I am entitled to have that amendment voted on. The second thing, it is incorrect, it is legally false to say to this senate that the amendment to the NGO act is required for the 13th senator to take his seat. We can disagree on the legal interpretation of that, I insist on my motion being voted on.”
UDP senators Stephen Duncan and Michael Peyrefitte agreed that Salas presence is not necessary for today’s sitting of the senate.
Senator Stephen Duncan
“Mr. President, I find the request a little strange. We have as a country, have always had a senate, we have always taken our roles seriously and we have already as far as I’m aware discharged our duties maturely and responsibly, with or without a 13th senator. I am a little surprised if we are being asked to accept or if it is being suggested that this senate cannot function without a 13th member. We have always had the quorum we have even if you add a 13th senator I am not aware that there is any intention to change the quorum for a meeting even in adding a 13th senator the quorum calls for, as far as I can recall, it just came on me, I think it is three so as long as we have a quorum, it is mind boggling why we should not have a meeting.
Senator Michael Peyrefitte
“We do not pause the business of the people to accommodate one person. We are here we have a quorum we should move on and the next thing I have to wonder, Senator Courtney is so interested in adjourning an entire senate meeting to accommodate one senator, is this a person who will be a senator for the NGO community or is this a senator for the People’s United Party. I would have thought that not even they are clamoring to that extent, they are not protesting outside, they are not making any huge argument to come in here they fully understand that their person will be appointed when their person is appointed. We do not stop a senate meeting because somebody is absent or not yet appointed. Yesterday, Senator Courtney was not at the hearings into the Special Senate Select Committee should they have adjourned then? When you are absent we move on once we have a quorum so I think the proceedings on the order paper should go on and I support what Mr. Duncan had said.”
Government Senator Aldo Salazar says that Courtney’s motion is out of order.
Senator Aldo Salazar
“The motion sought for amendment is that at the end of its sitting today the senate should adjourn to a further date. In my view, Senator Courtney’s motion is out of order because it is not a matter that can be properly exempted from notice, if the opposition wanted us to not have any sitting today that is a different matter. You do not require notice to amend a motion but what they are seeking to do is not to amend the motion; then you require notice. What they are seeking to do is not to amend what the motion is, the motion is that at the end of the sitting today you adjourn to a further date, this is a new motion not to have any sitting today, so then you need to have notice for something like that. It is not a proper amendment to the motion made by the leader of government business; his motion is that at the end of today’s sitting we adjourn. I don’t feel that it is proper to propose that amendment.”
Responding to Salazar was PUP Senator Valerie Woods.
Senator Valerie Woods
“Under exemption from notice standing order 25A, it is clear that a motion for the amendment of a motion was made. I support the motion and it’s not to accommodate anyone, that was not the motion. The fact is from October 20th this entire nation was aware and ourselves, that the commencement order for the 13th senator would be January 20th. In the name of good governance, in the name of respecting the will of the people, a senate meeting to be called one day before, is really not in good faith. But you can go back further for the context of where we are, because it’s not about a personality or a person and to address comments made earlier on this side of the chamber, the 13th senator is not a senator for this side of the chamber. From August of 2008 the constitution was amended, it was amended for the 13th senator. In October of 2016, the commencement order was signed. In November of 2016, the mechanism to select that 13th senator which was encouraged by no less than the Prime Minister of this country was effected by way of meeting an invitation by the attorney general with the NGOs registered under the act. All of those stipulations were complied with. In December of 2016 with the knowledge of all of that, there was a notice sent out of a meeting of the senate to be held one day before that commencement order takes place. In a year in which the unions and business community and so many others rallied and asked the government to kindly put into effect what the people have been waiting for but more importantly, what this government championed; going into that first of three elections, with all of that knowledge, a senate meeting was scheduled for one day before, not two weeks before, not three weeks before but one day before.”
The Senate was postponed for a few minutes for further discussion. Courtenay’s motion was disallowed and the day’s proceedings continued. Courtenay says the objective was achieved.
Senator Eamon Courtenay
“What we wanted to do was to demonstrate to the public, to demonstrate to the Belizeans and specifically the NGO community, that the government of Belize has a problem with their commitment to the people, they were the ones who amended the constitution from 2008 we have been waiting for this to happen it hasn’t happened. They made that commitment, they have now done this and there is no reason as we saw today why this meeting couldn’t have been delayed in order for the 13th senator to take his seat. More importantly, in a circumstance where we are debating an amendment to the NGO bill, an amendment to the NGO bill that is ill informed, badly drafted, unnecessary and what we demonstrated also is that the NGO bill itself needs further amendments so he ought to have been seated and that was the point we wanted to make to the Belizean people. I listened in amazement to Senator Duncan, to Senator Barnett implying that something was wrong with the election that took place, that some NGO that she represents did not vote as if to say that something was wrong, the point of the matter is that the person who they were actively campaigning for was not elected and that is why all of these stories are starting to come up and we wanted it on the record so that when they start to make mischief on Wave on other things with the current senator who was duly elected, you will have it on the record to say that they were never genuine from the very beginning.”