Osmany Salas is the 13th Senator
There is a thirteenth senator to represent the non-governmental organizations. The historic vote took place this morning resulting in the election of Osmany Salas, the president of the Belize Tourism Industry Association. With significant experience in the N.G.O. sector, Salas glided through two rounds of balloting trouncing the other four aspirants. The thirteenth senator was long in coming; for years it remained only an elusive promise until the Belize National Teachers Union made it a central part of their governance agenda. Salas accepted the appointment today and will soon be heading before the Governor General to take the oath hopefully to take his seat before the senate meets. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports from the office of the Belize Audubon Society.
With the bar having been set exceedingly high, the Belize Tourism Industry Association’s executive director, Osmany Salas, a long-established member of the N.G.O. community, is the Thirteenth Senator elect. A week ago, his name, along with several others, including Janelle Chanona, Edilberto Romero, Donovan Reneau and Juan Pablo Collado, made it to a shortlist of candidates who were interested in contesting the seat. This morning, those five names appeared on a ballot.
Froyla Tzalam, Media Relations Officer
“In total, twenty-three organizations in good standing, out of the twenty-nine voted this morning. Each representative had to show their ID to the presiding officer Ms. Amanda Burgos and to Mr. Hall from Grant Thornton accounting firm. So we’re grateful to them for that. At the end of the first round these were the votes that were cast for the five candidates.”
Leading all nominees in the first round was Osmany Salas. Coming closest to him, in terms of the total number of votes garnered, was BACONGO representative Edilberto Romero.
“Janelle Chanona – three; Juan Pablo Collado – one; Donovan Reneau – one; Edilberto Romero – seven; Osmany Salas – eleven; no rejected ballots. All of that came up to twenty-three total votes cast. That meant that we immediately went into the second round. At the end of that second round, sorry, the second round had two nominees, two candidates: Edilberto Romero and Osmany Salas. Their names were put on the ballot and at the end of that second round Edilberto Romero had seven votes and Osmany Salas had sixteen. Zero rejected ballots and twenty-three votes in total were cast. At the end of round two Osmany was declared the senator elect with just under seventy percent of the votes cast in his favor.”
The importance of the vote, from the perspective of good governance, fulfills, albeit through overwhelming public pressure, the mandate of the United Democratic Party. In 2008, the U.D.P. campaigned on a platform which included the introduction of a thirteenth senator. Despite having taken requisite steps to make good on that promise, it did not come into existence until today, due in large part to the Belize National Teachers Union.
Osmany Salas, Senator Elect
“I just want to say I am very honored. I am deeply humbled at being given the opportunity to represent the Belize N.G.O. community. As some good friends have told me, the work really just begins. I want to say again, and I will never tire of saying a huge thank you to the teachers of our nation, to the B.N.T.U., to the business community led by the Belize Chamber of Industry and the Belize Business Bureau for all the struggles and other members of civil society for really fighting and struggling and for ensuring that we get this opportunity, the N.G.O. community gets this opportunity to be represented in the Senate and to be involved in the campaign, in the work to improve governance in our country.”
That particular evaluation, or point of view, if you will, is not necessarily shared by all members of the Barrow administration. In fact, the co-opting of a thirteenth senator and his subsequent role in the House is seen by Home Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington as a potential stumbling block, simply getting in the way of government achieving its goals.
Wilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington, Minister of Home Affairs
“Because it is not an elected body it doesn’t have the kind of power that an elected body has, you know. It’s really made up of appointed persons. I think the initial resistance to the appointment of a thirteenth senator is that we have discovered that every appointee who is not appointed by the government opposes everything the government does. I mean there is not an occasion when one of the non-governmental appointee would support the government’s motion and when that is done people seem to be affronted by it.”
According to the senator elect, the role of an additional upper parliamentarian is not to frustrate government’s motions.
“There have been some concerns that the thirteenth senator will just serve to block government at every turn, that is not the case. The thirteenth senator will ensure that in the matters of our governance we look at things the way they should, fairly and constructively. So there will be many programs that the government will want to pass, you know, legislation and other matters that will be put to the Senate. We would, of course, support those and we would also ensure that we are working closely with the other senators, in particular the ones that come from civil society.”
Salas has accepted the terms under which he will be appointed senator and will be formally sworn-in in the days ahead.
“I think we have really raised the bar, we have set a precedent and I think we can’t go anywhere else but up. I am very proud of my colleagues and I am very happy to be a member this community and I commit to serve the community all to ensure that, as I mentioned before, that we are part of improving good governance and we can do our part to improve the lives of our people in this country.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.