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Aug 12, 2011

More voices from first public consultation

There was more opposition than there was support to the Ninth Amendment at Wednesday night’s consultations at the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall. There was also plenty politics at play. Those who oppose the amendment base their objections on the removal of the right to access the court for full ventilation of claims to future amendments to the constitution. The three-hour public hearing also heard impassioned pleas for its withdrawal. On Thursday night, we brought you part one of the consultations and tonight News Five’s Jose Sanchez has additional coverage on the event.

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

The yard of the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall was swamped with party supporters, members of the general public, and police officers to keep them at bay, as by seven p.m. all seats were filled inside the auditorium. The present constitution and proposed changes inside the ninth amendment were explained by the Solicitor General.

Cheryl Krusen, Solicitor General

Cheryl Krusen

“The proposed amendment, we numbered the subsections because it is introducing this subsection two. You remember we spoke that if any other law is inconsistent with the constitution, it shall be void. Well what the proposed amendment says now that the other law includes, does not include a law to alter the provisions of the constitution as long as those alterations have been passed in accordance with section 69. Section 69 is the section which has to ensure that a certain procedure is adhered to, is respected to amend the constitution. So the words other law do not include a law to alter any of the provisions of the constitutions which means therefore that once the process of section 69 has been complied with then that is deemed to be absolutely valid and in conformity with the constitution. That is what the proposal to section 2 does. We are using this opportunity that ninety day period to have these consultations. It does not say in existing section 69 that you have to have consultations, but this has become I would say the convention of the people of Belize that they do look forward to these consultative undertakings. And we look at Section 5(a) where you have a simple majority. So essentially to amend the constitution as it now exists in section 69, there are certain provisions that require three-quarters majority, some are two-thirds majority and some are simple majority—that is what the present section 69 says. The existing section 69, as I have just explained it, remains—that has not changed. All of those provisions that I have spoken to you about still remain in the proposed 9th Amendment. The only difference to section 69 as the 9th Amendment would seek to do is to include a new subsection, which is subsection 9. And that subsection is a subsection which is seeking to remove all doubts by declaring that there is no limitation—whether substantive or procedural—on the power of the national assembly, which is the power given by the existing 69, to alter any provisions of the constitution and once it is passed in conformity with section 69, then it shall not be open to challenge in court—an ouster clause; the same thing like the Speaker of the House cannot be inquired into any court of law. That is what section 69 as is proposed does.”

The government’s perspective on the ninth has been opposed by the Council of Churches, the Belize Chamber of Commerce, the Bar Association of Belize, Belizeans For Justice and the People’s United Party.  Amidst the throng of “till I die” P.U.P. and U.D.P. supporters were a few sole voices who had their own vision and concerns.

Captain Nicholas Sanchez

Captain Nicholas Sanchez

“I have no political party. I’m a Belizean patriot. I support the 9th amendment, but I’d like to hear it go a little bit further—over oil, whatever minerals are found on the ground, under the ground, and in the sea and under the sea bed. Everything we should have a part of. Maybe this will raise us from seven percent in the oil industry to fifty one percent. We need to have our national resources.”

Roque Reyes, Orange Walk Resident

Roque Reyes

“I want to support it, but with knowledge. And I think for you to just say I will pass the 9th amendment; it’s good to start with it. It’s good to start with it, but let’s educate our people. You know why I don’t support it? Not because of what I don’t know, but what I have seen in the past.  First of all, with due respect, what has been happening when you don’t respect the Court. The Courts have not been respected. To me I can’t stand that really because the Courts supposed to be the one to be respected. What makes it funny is that the first day people respected it. I saw people walking from that place respecting it, coming out of the office of B.T.L. and three days time; they figure something out to get in back. That’s playing and this is serious thing. Next thing is; I support the utilities that we should own it as Belizeans, but rightly run to make money and to reduce for all of us the rates. B.T.L. for instance, I have shares in it; I haven’t heard anything from this is happening. What is happening to us? Not because you have a mandate means you are the supreme my friend. I respect you because you are elected okay. I respect your position, but sometimes I don’t respect the man itself.”

And though the government fielded most questions, also seated at the head table was the Leader of the Opposition who gave his party’s views at the close of the session.

John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“We want to make it absolutely clear to everyone that when it comes to the issue of nationalizations that the People’s United Party is not against nationalization. The constitution of Belize, section 17 provides for nationalization in Belize, but there is a process that must be followed. The problem that we have and why is it that we are against on the amendment to the constitution is that one; it bars citizens in certain conditions form going to the court. I believe that citizens must always have access to the court. Secondly, Mr. Chairman, for us it is very important that the constitution must always be supreme—the supreme law of the land. The concern that we have here is where you’re say that a law passed by the National Assembly to alter any of the provisions of this constitution which is passed in conformity with this section shall not be open to challenge in any court of law on any ground whatsoever. Basically what this is saying is that as long as you follow the process, any amendment to the constitution, could not be challenged. We believe that is dangerous—that we should allow every citizen, any citizen, to at any time to challenge any changes to the constitution be it whatever government we have in the National Assembly. Thank you Mister Chairman and good night.”

The lingering question on the proposed ninth amendment is whether or not the show of support for Red and Blue will continue to drown out or discourage the non-affiliated from attending future consultations. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

The second round of consultations will be held in Belmopan on August twenty-fourth.

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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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