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Nov 21, 2014

Social Partners Reopen Discussion of 13th Senator

Arturo Vasquez

While the Chamber spoke earlier about the sugar impasse, another discussion which has seen some rebirth is the issue of the thirteenth Senator, a commitment by the United Democratic Party at one point. It was an immensely popular campaign promise because it enhances transparency and accountability and allows the Senate valuable oversight capacity. Along with those things, it would also impact government’s ability to pass through any bill of their making because of a simple majority. Prime Minister Barrow has declared that it will not happen, for that same reason, but the social partners continue to push for it. The Chamber is a part of the social partners and they have reconvened a group which has brought back the discussion.

 

Arturo Vasquez, President, Belize Chamber of Commerce

“History will show that it was a manifesto promise by the United Democratic Party and so as a manifesto promise I would think that there was a reason why that manifesto would have seen the need for a thirteenth senator. So there is no question as to whether you will need it or not. It was promised maybe because it is something that is needed. However, that was delayed to a certain point where I think now the government has been on record to say that they don’t believe that it was the best thing anymore. Perhaps, I mean if the thirteenth senator means that power will be removed from government hands, any government will not necessarily be happy with that. But I don’t think that it removes power; it just basically creates a little more balance in how we can address certain bills and things presented by government. I am not in a position to say whether that completely ties the government hands or not; I don’t think it does. But the social partners have gathered recently and really the three senators that sit in the senate are the ones that have decided to write the prime minister a first letter just maybe advising him that legally, we understand it that he is in a position now to sign and to put this thing into law. We understand that it was a two-part law that should have been implemented and I believe he implemented one part and he had this one pending. The prime minister has actually responded to the first letter saying that yes he understands that it is in his hand to put it into effect, but really it is also up to him as when is the best time to do it. The social partners, the three senators, have written recently again explaining to him that really it has gone on for a while and they believe that this thing needs a deadline. The letter basically has put a deadline to the prime minister as to when they believe that this thing should be implemented.”

 

Mike Rudon

“If the discussion breaks down again, is there any recourse left to the social partners for example, a legal challenge to push this matter of the thirteenth senator?”

 

Arturo Vasquez

“Umm, everything these days seem to be going to the courts. I really hope that this will not be another one but I am not to say that that is it. But if that’s where it has to go, it will be up to the social partners to decide whether they need to take it all the way to court. But as you know everything these days just seem to head to the courts and that’s our last leg really and I am hoping that it doesn’t go all the way there.”

 

The Prime Minister has not responded to the second letter. When or if he does, the social partners will determine the way forward.

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