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Apr 28, 2004

Elections chief rebuts News 5 charges

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On yesterday’s newscast Channel 5′s News Director Stewart Krohn presented the results of his investigation into the redistricting exercise currently being conducted by the Elections and Boundaries Commission. His conclusion was that the recommendations of the redistricting taskforce are clearly unconstitutional in that they give far too much representation to Belize District voters and too little to those in the other five districts. In preparing his analysis, Krohn was emphatically told by Chief Elections Officer and taskforce member Myrtle Palacio that she would not answer any questions about the report because (a) it belonged to the commission, not her, and (b) the report spoke for itself. Today, however, I managed to catch up with Palacio at a public event where she did take the opportunity to address the subject.

Myrtle Palacio, Chief Elections Officer

“I understand that he was making a constitutional point and I understand that he stuck up some numbers as well as section ninety (one) of the constitution and omitted ninety (two) of the constitution that has other criteria, not as equal as may be. There is ninety (one), he over looked ninety (two). He made reference apparently to Mrs. Fairweather who told him that there were other issues, other criteria that he said he didn’t see, I understand. But it’s right there in the report. The report makes reference to ninety (one) (a) and (b) and ninety (two). And ninety (two) is just as important, and you have to marry all these together to come up with a recommendation.”

“This is the very first time in the history of our country, our political history, because we really researched to see?we have gone through boundary redistricting from 1945, six, then nine in ?54, then eighteen in ?61, then twenty-eight in 1984. And even up to 1998, even though we didn?t add numbers before that election, we had been moving boundaries around quietly. Now the thing is, this is the first time there is some kind of open?there is transparent, there is a report that?s on a website and given to anybody who wants it and there are guidelines that the commission has accepted. There is nothing in the file to find out what happened in ?54, what happened in ?61, you understand. So I think that the commission should be given credit for coming up with guidelines, looking at guiding principles first before going up and chopping up things and then presenting it to the public after the fact.”

Janelle Chanona

“Wearing all your hats then as a citizen, a member of the taskforce, as Chief Elections Officer, are you confident that this report, taking into account section ninety (one) and section ninety (two) as you say, and the other factors, district voters are not less powerful than Belize District voters?”

Myrtle Palacio

“Let me tell you what I think about that comment, and I keep hearing it over and over and I wish that journalists?because it?s a profession like any other?would also research. We have tried at Elections and Boundaries. You also need to look around at what is happening in other countries in the Commonwealth. Most of our laws, even our Representation of the People Act is the same or similar to other countries in the Commonwealth, and you have to look beyond or else you will begin to reinvent the wheel. That?s why we?re celebrating an occasion like today, that there were leaders before that we were piggybacking on and it?s not only the leaders of the MTV era. So that is very important in looking at. What is representation? Is there absolute equality, is that what the constitution is asking? I?m just asking these questions of you yourself as a young journalist because that is not coming forward the way I heard about yesterday. Is there such as absolute equality anywhere in the world? Can you in Belize take one hundred and twenty-seven thousand and divide it into twenty-nine with people crying about their own district limitations and that sort of thing? These are questions to ask.”

In reply, News 5′s Krohn expressed satisfaction that Palacio finally decided to publicly defend her report. He expressed puzzlement, however, at her specific allegations. The numbers that were “stuck up”, for example, came directly from the taskforce report. As for the omission of section ninety, subsection two, that part of the constitution consists of exactly one sentence which reads as follows: “In fixing the boundaries of electoral divisions the commission shall have regard to the transport and other facilities of the division and to its physical features.” According to Krohn, it is plain from the text that this sentence refers to specific boundaries of individual divisions, not their total number or relative size. And even if it was intended to augment section ninety, subsection one, what physical features, transport or other facilities peculiar to the Belize District would single out its constituencies for special treatment? As a service to voters, we would like to formally welcome Mrs. Palacio and any member of the taskforce or Election and Boundaries Commission to appear live on this newscast at any time to explain and discuss the redistricting exercise.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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