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Jun 20, 2012

Bad penmanship? Oceana speaks judicial review of rejected signatures

OCEANA was before the courts today in respect of signatures struck out from a petition drive for a referendum on offshore drilling. Just before the March elections, thousands of signatures were disqualified so OCEANA went to court to seek permission to have the decision by the Chief Elections Officer reviewed. News Five’s Jose Sanchez was in court for the arguments.

 

Jose Sanchez, Reporting

Oceana Belize attempted to trigger a referendum but on February second, Oceana’s attempt was struck out because of poor penmanship. Today, Oceana sought permission to have the court review the decisions of the Chief Election Officer which disqualified eight thousand and forty-seven petition signatures. Justice Michelle Arana granted judicial review.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Oceana V.P., Belize

“I feel that it is only one small victory because really this is only giving us permission to go to judicial review. But I am glad that the court got to see the evidence that we didn’t just come to court. I think that is important for the public to understand that we didn’t just wake up one morning and say okay then we gwen dah court. We did everything we could within the law to try and settle this matter out of court and we didn’t get it.”

 

Jose Sanchez

“The government’s attorney also said that; questioned the integrity of your suit.”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“I know; that was disappointing because throughout it, we have remained respectful. We can make slurs and hurl all kind of comments but we don’t do that. So it was sad to hear that for the first time they actually were trying to impute some kind of wrongdoing on our part. But you know, I can see past that because at the end of the day that will not make me lose focus of the fact that I’m not really speaking for myself. There were over twenty thousand people who signed that petition form; we did our pre-check before. Yes we knew that there were some that could have been not making it on the registration list because they told us that they had just registered and we know that there was a process going on through election. So it doesn’t mean that because you got to register that you would stay on the list. But at the end of the day, it was up to them to say to us these persons were knocked off the list or not. And everybody knew what was happening close to election. So we never, and honestly, never tried to do anything to even taint the process because we gain nothing from it. We were trying to create a culture of responsibility and where people can genuinely believe in our system: that democracy is alive; that the rule of law exist. We prefer to lose a point than to do anything to impute the integrity of a process that we really hailed and we always felt that we should commend the government for having changed the referendum act and give us that access. But of course it fell short when it came into practice for various reasons.”

 

Godfrey Smith, Oceana’s Attorney proved that the group had an arguable case. So the appellants; Oceana, Audrey Bradley and Tom Greenwood can now proceed to make an application for judicial review to the court.

 

Godfrey Smith

Godfrey Smith, Attorney for Oceana 

“When the chief elections officer rejected the eight thousand plus signatures, she did so in an unreasonable manner. Our simple argument is that—and this was picked up by the media at the press conference—if you simply match the signature of somebody who signed the petition against his voter’s record card might be, as in my case, twenty plus years old; the signatures are likely to be different. The Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Gibson as he then was—he is now the minister—himself admitted his signature’s changed. So you can’t rely on that as a valid way of verifying signatures. The law imposes on the Chief Elections Officer the statutory duty to establish that the person who signed the petition; that that signature in fact is his or her signature—not that I believe or maybe. So I think it would stand to reason, and any ordinary person hearing; that your method dah just fi compare the signature pan the petition against some old record card. But is that enough? Worse, it is compounded in our view when the Chief Elections officer reaches the conclusion that forty percent must go—one outta every two. Surely it must trigger you as a reasonable decision maker to say, “Hey; maybe something is off on this. Should we used the signatures provided by Oceana on the petition to call wah lee one or two percent of these people who we say signature noh match—just to see what they have to say about whether they signed or not before you make such a huge decision—such an onerous and deep decision to disenfranchise people, who by statue, are entitled to utilize the referendum act. It is a tool of democracy; which is there for that purpose. So you should not lightly, unless you are totally satisfied, reach the conclusion that the signatures are wrong.”

 

Adele Ramos, Amandala

“Are you asking the court, at the end of the day, to order the chief elections officer to issue the certificate that would then trigger the final referendum?”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“Yes that’s one of the belief that we are seeking. They should revisit their verification process. Remember what our attorney said; it wasn’t just mere verification, it is a verification in fact meaning that you must factually ascertain that people signed or didn’t sign. You can’t just look at two cards and say oh yes, this signature look the same. You have to, as a matter of fact—to put it in our layman’s term—go and ascertain that Adele Ramos did sign [and] it’s not just a signature there. And so we are asking that the verification process be conducted according to the law and that after the process is done that we are certain that it will be ascertained that we have more than the ten percent that was required and that as a result of that we will then be able to have the certificate issued so that we then have a referendum.”

 

Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

 

The applicants will now file their application for full review by the court.

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2 Responses for “Bad penmanship? Oceana speaks judicial review of rejected signatures”

  1. Storm says:

    I hope the Referendum Act procedures get well-established. In the future, it can allow Belizean people to unite and organise to reform the country whether professional politicians want it or not.

  2. Belizean says:

    Waste of time!

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