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PUP: there are flaws in Referendum Bill

When the Senate debate took place on April 15, the lead opposition Senator, Eamon Courtenay, cited several flaws in the Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Bill 2019.  The Bill went through all its stages and was subsequently enacted.  There was curiosity by many parties as to whether the People’s United Party would attempt to block the new referendum date set for May 8; but that is not the case, despite several concerns that the party has regarding the Bill.  With only eight days left before the ICJ Referendum is held, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, reiterated his client’s concerns, especially where the results of the Bill cannot be brought into question.

Eamon Courtenay – Attorney: It is our view and we hold it very firmly that the Bill is unconstitutional, we also believe that it violates certain fundamental principles: one called the principle of legality. Let me give you an example, section 9 of that Bill essentially says that look at the representation of the People’s Act and whatever they say in there we can pull on that to have the Referendum. Well in order to organize, operate and behave whenever they call the Referendum, we don’t know which section out of the representation out of the People’s Act they are going to be relying on and how they are going to apply it, the law must be certain and clear. Anybody who wants to participate in the Referendum must know which section in the representation of the People’s Act that they are relying on. I indicated to the Senate Committee that the Government of Grenada had Referendum last year and I gave them a copy of the Act in Grenada which specifically cites the section in their representation of the People’s Act that allows them to say that we are relying on these sections but we haven’t done that so we don’t know which provisions. More importantly if you look at this Act, if something goes wrong on Referendum day there is no procedure set out giving a right to come to court and challenge the result of the Referendum. Again the Grenada Act has a provision in there that specifically empowers any voter to move the court to challenge the result of the Referendum. This is important because certainly, the People’s United Party has very little confidence in the way in which the San Pedro Municipal Election was conducted, we have very little confidence in the way the re-registration process has been conducted, we have clear evidence in black and white that people have been ordered to put people on that list that do not qualify and we know that as a matter of fact that people who qualify are not on that list and therefore we are now dealing with a corrupted process and it is in that context that we believe the Act is efficient because if we want or anybody wants to challenge it there is no procedure in the law that allows for it. I think the fundamental point that the Deputy Party Leader is trying to make is simply this. How can this Government acting responsibly move forward with this Referendum where it has consistently failed in the court and there is a challenge to the legislation on which they are holding the Referendum? prudence and good sense requires sober affection, mature leadership, and pause. To quote the Deputy Leader, take a chill pill and let’s get this right so that we can get a lawful Referendum so that we can have a proper education campaign that is balanced, that is fair and that is honest above all.”

Attorney for the Government of Belize, Lisa Shoman responded to those concerns, saying that the opposition is yet to make a formal submission to them with the flaws they have observed.

Lisa Shoman – Attorney: “I wait to see what they are, we have not been given that and they are not interested to give it to us before the 10th of May which is after the Referendum so if you got problems with this Referendum on the 8th of May but you won’t tell me what the problem is until the 10th of May, that is interesting.”

Reporter: “They have been stated in the Senate, the lead?”

Lisa Shoman – Attorney: “I am waiting to see them on paper because what a Senator says in the Senate and what is filed in court very often can be two different things. I heard the Chairman of the People’s United Party go on an extended rant, completely erroneous, somehow believing that this particular injunction extended to any and all Referendum, a fact which instead his council has said no we are not challenging next week so you know what politicians or Senators say in the court of public opinion or in the National Assembly and what is filed in court very often is two different things. I will wait to see what they have sent to us, for me to try to spell and guess what they are going to do wouldn’t be the right thing at all.”

The ICJ Referendum is set for Wednesday, May 8.