Senators met in session today in what was perhaps the briefest Sitting of the Senate in recent years. The session began just after ten o’clock this morning and within one hour it had adjourned. On the day’s agenda were several Bills due for ratification including the Central Bank of Belize (Amendment) Bill, 2021; the Finance and Audit (Reform) (Amendment) Bill, 2021, and the Public Contracts Commission Bill, 2021. These Bills, however, were suspended for ratification which made the session very brief. According to the Government’s Lead Senator Eamon Courtenay, the suspension was on the grounds that the committee of the whole Senate would need to examine the Bills carefully. Once that was announced the Motion for the appointment of members to the Elections and Boundaries Commission was tabled. Senator Courtenay announced the appointments of Oscar Sabido-Puga as the new Chairman. The composition of the Senate calls for a Chairman and four members. The other two members appointed by the Government are Orando Espat and Conrad Lewis while the opposition have appointed Alberto August and Phillipa Bailey. Rising to speak on the appointments was NGO Senator Osmany Salas who spoke primarily on the short time given to review the credentials of the appointees.
NGO Senator Osmany Salas: “I wish we would have received the CVs much earlier. I also note that we did not receive all five CVs. There is one, at least from my package there’s one missing. We received these CVs just this morning so we were scrambling to look through them. I mean I can see in the case of the proposed chairman that he is highly experienced for such a position so as to ensure that we improve from what used to be I ask that the same attention, the same consideration be given for motions such as this, to give us adequate time to review and to have the opportunity to call those that are being proposed for the positions for those of us who would want to do that and find out more because we I’m sure we all take our responsibility here seriously Madam President and as some have said before this should just be treated as a formality where we are to approve but approval as we have discussed before in previous meetings there’s a process and I don’t think we were given sufficient time to give due consideration to the nominees for the commission.”
Senator Salas went on to speak on the dire need for the country to reform the Elections and Boundaries processes and system.
NGO Senator Osmany Salas: “I have to say again for the record and I’ve said this on numerous occasions over the last four years that as far as the Elections and Boundaries Commission – and I really wish to see this happen during the life of this administration – we need to put in place reform as far as the electoral system is concerned and I had mentioned before that if we look at what some of our sister nations in the Caribbean have done they have very good templates that we can follow that can guide us to ensure that we have an independent and adequately resourced Elections and Boundaries Commission rather than the two electoral management bodies that we have in the country at this time where we have a commission that is effectively a shell with the exception of the aspects that deal with redistricting, that is I think their principal role where they should come up with proposals to table to the National Assembly after a re-registration process has been undertaken and we have done that probably almost two years ago. So I am really hoping that during the life of this administration we look at that. The commission has effectively delegated via the Representation of the People’s Act it’s functions to the Elections and Boundaries Department which come under a minister. That’s not good practice. I wish to see real reform and from our side, from the NGO network and we have put position on this matter over the years, that is what we would like to see. I can’t speak for the other social partners but in a joint declaration that we previously signed we have said something to the same effect. So I noticed that in this motion for appointment of members of the Elections and Boundaries Commission it is to be for a period of five years. I would have preferred to see a shorter period knowing that the intention is that during that time we will seriously look at reforming the electoral system, looking at how we can put in place an independent, well resourced commission. It is so important for as far as it deals with our elections to ensure the continued sanctity of our electoral system and I had referred to the Jamaica example before and I keep referring to that in a way because I had the opportunity to meet with their chairperson and most of their commissioners and it is a very good template to look at.”
Rising to respond to the points brought up by Senator Salas were the Opposition’s Senator Michael Peyrefitte and Government Senator Eamon Courtenay.
Opposition Senator Michael Peyrefitte: “Indeed there is one CV that’s missing and that is of Mr.Alberto August but having served before and appointed by the Senate before his CV was already on file along with Ms.Philippa Bailey who is a current serving member so she’s only returning. But in terms of the Chairman Mr.Sabido if I may say as well about Mr.August I mean he’s the longest serving member of the commission ever, thirteen years, and it was under his chairmanship that the department adopted the simultaneous counting of ballots thereby reducing the time that it took between when polling was finished and counting started and it reduced the amount of public officers necessary for the process. So you’re talking about in terms of from the opposition’s side two seasoned veterans when it comes to the Elections and Boundaries Commission and I don’t unlike Senator Salas I don’t necessarily have a difficulty with the five years. If you want to see serious changes or a serious number of changes then you have to give people time to develop policy, to develop strategies and I wouldn’t worry about the five years. Initially I would say I worry about the five years Madam President because that would take them to February first 2026 but I’m sure the Chairman will do the right thing and resign on November 12 2025.”
Senator Eamon Courtenay: “Madam President lest the record be inaccurate and persons who seek exaltation and do not deserve it I do wish to point out to the honorable Senate that Mr.Landy Espat was first appointed in 2008, he was appointed in 2013, was appointed in 2018, we’re in 2021 and I think that is thirteen years. Madam President the curriculum vitae of Mr.Oscar Sabido Puga Senior Counsel speaks for itself. The curriculum vitae of Conrad Lewis speaks for itself. We have a trained teacher, a political scientist, a former senator, a former deputy clerk and in fact a former clerk of this august body. The persons nominated by the Prime Minister for chairmanship and representing the government are persons of high integrity and unquestionable standing in the society. With respect to reform Madam President I can assure and speak with confidence and assure Senator Salas that as a part of the mandate of the political reform approved by the people resoundingly on the 11th of November 2020 we will have the reform of the Elections and Boundaries Commission during this term.”