A Special Sitting of the House of Representatives took place today in Belmopan with just the bare minimum needed to make quorum. This is in consideration of the social distancing practice. As a matter of fact, even the media was limited on how many could operate within the confines of the National Assembly. The main focus of today’s meeting was for the approval on a motion to extend the country’s State of Emergency for an additional sixty days. The Government is the one seeking the 60-day extension, but the opposition is not in agreement. According to the Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno, a 30-day extension would suffice.
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition, People’s United Party: “Belize today is under a state of emergency which comes to end on April 30th. We have been under the siege for many days for several weeks and as such circumstances the questions we must now ask is whether or not to extend the state of emergency and if yes for how long? After much discussion and deliberation among our party’s legal, medical and economic advisors our parliamentary caucus has approved our support for an extend to the national state of emergency for thirty days starting May 1st 2020 and I’ll explain why Madam Speaker. This is our recommendation because our public health authorities, people with specialization in public health, epidemiology, clinical health and hospital management believe that keeping people at home for thirty more days represents our best means for further containing the spread of the coronavirus at this time. Now this does not mean that if at the end of this thirty days that we may need to extend the state of emergency that we would not support it we just believe that thirty days Madam Speaker should be enough at this time. Now this is no time for complacency and carelessness or the kind of irresponsible actions that could render meaningless all the progress we have thus far achieved and need I say with much sacrifice from everyone.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow rose to counter Briceno’s remarks on the State of Emergency reminding Briceno that he had voted on the 60-day extension without reservations.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “While I never expected that holding together the unity effort would be anything like plain sailing and while I always conceded that unity does not mean uniformity, while I always conceded that as one of them said the opposition must reserve the right to speak with a different voice on any of the particular issues that arise as we proceed on this journey what I could never have expected is this. This motion before the house today asks for an extension of the state of emergency for two months. Madam Speaker this is not something that I came up with on my own, this is not something that the Cabinet of Belie came up with this is something that was fully and thoroughly discussed at the National Oversight Committee which the Leader of the Opposition chairs and it was only after that thoroughgoing discussion, because we talked about the various options, that the vote was taken that resulted in the National Oversight Committee in effect directing me to bring to the house the motion for an extension of the state of emergency for two months. That vote of the National Oversight Committee was unanimous the Leader of the Opposition was part of that unanimity. It is not as though the Leader of the Opposition said to the rest of us on the committee “Well listen I agree with two months but I have to enter a reservation. I will have to go check with some others before I can actually sign on.” No, no he took full and robust part in the discussion and he voted unambiguously without entering any kind of reservation for us to propose the resolution to the National Assembly for a two month extension. You turn around two days after and you go back on that vote? Nobody would have faulted him if he has said at the time that he absolutely supported two months “Listen I do this because that is how I personally feel but I serve notice on you that I will have to consult with my party and so I reserve a final position.” nothing like that. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say you’re part of a national unity effort, you can’t come to a meeting where with all the social partners and the government you agree on a particular course of action and then you change your mind two days later. You stand exposed to the Belizean people.”
In the end, Prime Minister Barrow noted that while the PUP Representatives have their own views on the State of Emergency extension, the party does not seem to be singing with one voice on the issue.
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Ultimately where are we ? There’s a motion before the house. I am not sure what is the position of those on the other side. They say that they have their own proposal and that their proposal is that the state of emergency should only be extended for one month but that is not what is before the house and they didn’t seek to amend the motion so where are they ? Are they in fact despite what it now turns out is a reservation are they supporting the two month extension or not because if they don’t support it and if indeed they had a majority if today for some reason one of my people didn’t turn out and there was a balance so the motion to extend the state of emergency would fall ? Madam Speaker as I said I will do nothing to encourage their departure from the national unity effort but I do want to ask Madam Speaker that for as long as they choose to continue and I would hope that that is until the crisis is ended it may turn out differently but for as long as they choose to continue please, please demonstrate good faith, demonstrate consistency, demonstrate Madam Speaker an understanding of the need to put country before party. When the Leader of the Opposition spoke I understood him to be saying ‘Well sixty days is too long.’ and he went on to talk at some length about the reopening of the economy. When the member of Lake I spoke he said as he heard sixty days he cringed but then he went on to tell us that people nuh fi freak out at the notion of a further lock down so where is he? Where is ? If people are not to freak out at the notion of a further lock down and if they’re to listen to all he said about the dangers that still beset us then they would think that he in fact supports the sixty days but he started off suggesting he didn’t but everything in the rest of his presentation suggested he did so after they finished the two of them I was at a loss to understand what the true position is, and then came the third one. Now it appeared to me trying to make some sense, trying to get some coherence out of what the Leader of the Opposition said and the member for Lake I said that it proving difficult because the Leader of the Opposition said thirty days, the member for Lake I in effect was saying sixty days then comes the one from Cayo he doesn’t want a state of emergency at all so where are they ? And this is what I mean Madam Speaker when I say they need to be serious with this thing and to be serious with the Belizean people. That’s what he said he doesn’t want a state of emergency because that means that you trample on people’s human rights and that he wants instead some kind of law akin to what the British have done, my friend the British do not have a written constitution you understand ? That’s the big difference between them and us we have a written constitution any such law as they passed without our doing what we’re doing today by way of a resolution of the house to extend the state of emergency any such law I bet you five against ten I will give you ten and I bet you Madam Speaker that such a law would be struck down by our courts. We go this route because we have a written constitution that expressly provides for circumstances such as these.”
The State of Emergency motion goes to the Senate tomorrow for ratification. As Prime Minister noted, the State of Emergency can be called off at any point upon the advice of the National Task Force to the Oversight Committee and then to Cabinet.