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Apr 15, 2019

Senate Meets to Debate New Referendum Legislation

A vote by division in the Senate came shortly after four o’clock this afternoon following passage on Friday of the Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Bill 2019. The vote ended in a strong yes: there was one abstention, four no’s and eight voted in favour. The Senate then recessed for committee meeting to fix all the deficiencies in the Bill.  The new referendum bill now goes before the Governor General for his signature.  The Prime Minister will sooner rather than later be requesting a writ of referendum, which can be called within ten days. A date for the poll is expected to be known in the next few days. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports. 

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The Senate met today in special session hard on the heels of a House meeting last Friday during which the Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Bill was tabled and passed.  The motion brought before upper parliament is the second step in government’s passage of a new legislation that will allow for an I.C.J. referendum to be held in the weeks ahead, sidestepping the legal process that frustrated the scheduled holding of the national vote on April tenth.

 

Godwin Hulse

Godwin Hulse, Leader of Government Business

“Mr. President, I rise to take charge of the Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Bill of 2019 and Mr. President, in accordance with Standing Order 49-1, I move that the bill be taken through all its stages forthwith.”

 

And with that, the debate was opened to input from parliamentarians on both sides of the floor, including the N.G.O., trade unions and business community.  Senator Mark Lizarraga was first in making his contribution.

 

Mark Lizarraga

Mark Lizarraga, Senator, Business Community

“The path that we had set out on has possible ramifications for what I will describe as the potential for a constitutional crisis.  While our constitution has clearly defined our boundaries, it also states clearly that to, in effect, change those boundaries there has to be a process that needs to be followed.  Why do I say that?  We are not in the process of changing our boundaries now, but the path that we are on clearly calls for parliament to possibly make a decision on our boundaries.”

 

Among Lizarraga’s concerns is the politicization of the referendum campaign.  He also raises the question of litigation risks, a point which he says continues to go unanswered.

 

Mark Lizarraga

“This is a national issue.  We need to have meaningful buy-in by the citizens of this country.  What are the risks of losing and discuss them man.  What are the risks of really saying no, and not fear mongering.  And noh tell me that if we go to the I.C.J. the people dehn wahn stop come eena di Chiquibul and destroy we forest because that will never happen just because of a court judgment.  We need to protect our borders.  Let’s get it right.  This is an opportunity, the law will pass.  We have mentioned our concerns about the law, but hit the pause and give the process, give the legal process a chance to work.  Stop with this business of trying to legislate and wiggle your way out of trouble.”

 

During his presentation, Senator Lizarraga also touched on recent developments in the court as they relate to the Chief Justice granting an interim injunction halting the initial referendum.  It’s a point that raised the ire of Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte who rose to set the record straight where the writ of referendum is concerned.

 

Michael Peyrefitte

Michael Peyrefitte, U.D.P. Senator

“He may very well say that there was nothing wrong with the prime minister’s writ.  He may very well say that there was nothing wrong with the governor general’s writ.  He noh seh we wrong!  Stop pushing that silly narrative.  Stop it!  For God’s sake stop it!  And yoh wahn bring up treaty, weren’t you in court Senator Lizarraga?  The Chief Justice clearly indicated that there was nothing wrong with the treaty, nothing wrong with the Senate passing it and making it part of what we do here.  He said we were correct to the point where the lead attorney for the claimants, he’s appealing.  He wants to appeal that part of the decision.  So the only decision that the Chief Justice made, except for the injunction, was in our favor stop pushing foolishness.”

 

Opposition Senator Eamon Courtenay, during his presentation, also raised salient points in respect of the bill that has come before the Senate, by putting forward that there was no need for a new legislation in the first place.

 

Eamon Courtenay

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator

“We were supposed to go on April 10th, 2019, without this bill.  It means Mr. President, that we were going to have a referendum that was not properly authorized by law.  So no one certainly on this side, will criticize the fact that we are now going to consider this piece of legislation.  The point I wish to emphasize however, is that we need to get it right and the appeal from this side is for us as Belizeans to join forces and approach this issue in a responsible way, in a mature way and in a way that symbolizes that we can return to the days when we dealt with this matter on a bipartisan basis.  Mr. President and colleagues, the first difficulty that one has with the bill is that the Referendum Act as it currently exists is well capable, with some amendments, of authorizing the holding of the referendum.  There was therefore no need for us to come with a special purpose bill in order to have the referendum.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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