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Jan 23, 1998

Speaker reprimands Musa, P.U.P. walks out in protest

Story Picture
It was a drama that first unfolded last October, when Opposition Leader Said Musa was suddenly accused, tried and found guilty of contempt of the legislature. His alleged crime? He supposedly told a lie some six years earlier on the floor of the House of Representatives. Today that body’s Speaker, quoting Shakespeare and declaiming in Latin, handed down his sentence. But that was only part of the story. Here’s the rest.

The battle lines were drawn long before the political generals arrived on the scene. Busloads of P.U.P. supporters and a smaller number of U.D.P.’s all hastily convened in the Nation’s Capital, and were kept in order by a large contingent of riot police.

By the time the Leader of the Opposition, Said Musa, entered the scene, the crowd was already in a testy mood. With words borrowed from Franklin Roosevelt, Musa vowed to defy the majority in the House, a body which he called a forum of dictatorship.

Said Musa, Leader, P.U.P.

“This day will go down in history as a day of infamy and a day of hope. It is a day of infamy because those in power have decided to abuse that power and to destroy our democracy. It is a day of hope because from this day forth, you the Belizean people have decided to drive back the tyrants, let despots free, and to struggle fearlessly until we make Belize once more a land of the free by the Carib Sea.”

While Musa and his opposition colleagues entered the chamber, their supporters were left to skirmish with the police. The conflict was more sound and fury than anything else as commanders on both sides seemed to understand that bloodshed was not on today’s agenda.

Patrick Jones

“While the action out front may have been fast and furious, the atmosphere inside the house was eerily calm.”

The Speaker wasted no time in getting right down to business.

B.Q. Pitts, Speaker of the House

“Considering all the facts and circumstances, the appropriate punishment in your case, in my judgement, will be a reprimand. I, therefore, as Speaker of the House, and in pursuance of the above-cited Motion passed by the House on the seventeenth of October 1997, formally reprimand you as guilty of a breach of privilege and a gross contempt of this House.”

After several attempts at a reply, Musa finally got a word in edgewise.

Said Musa

“Point of order, Mr. Speaker, this house has acted unlawfully and illegally and we’re leaving because the House has been dishonored.”

With the chamber now half empty, the members of the Government side were free to carry on. Deputy Prime Minister Dean Barrow, the man who initiated the charges against Musa, professed to be satisfied with the outcome.

Dean Barrow, Deputy Prime Minister

“Absolutely, I think the authority of the speaker has been vindicated; I think justice has been done and I am very pleased with the results.”

And if the P.U.P.?s were disappointed, they certainly didn’t show it.

Said Musa

“The whole entire proceeding that started on October the 17th that culminated today, the whole thing was totally illegal and it concluded today with the House acting unlawfully and in an arbitrary fashion and we cannot stay in that House so long as it remain unlawful and arbitrary. But what we have indicated is that we are boycotting the House so long as they behave in this fashion because if ruling members can without the system of justice, without a court trail, find any member of an opposition party guilty, then the next P.U.P. Government could convict all of them for real crimes, not imagined crimes and destroy an opposition. That is clearly a very dangerous precedent which nobody would want in our country. What is going on up there is witch hunting and vengeful behavior on the part of hate filled politicians.”

But while Musa was basking in what he saw as a political victory, Dean Barrow claimed to be witnessing a wake.

Dean Barrow

“I feel that the Leader of the Opposition has been severely wounded politically speaking and I think that this issue, even though the punishment of the House has been handed down and therefore the role of the House and the role of the Speaker is at an end, I think the issue will continue to have a political life of its own. Very clearly, we in the ruling party will seek to keep what has happened in the forefront of public opinion. And we will seek to persuade people that for this as well as for other reasons Mr. Musa is not fit to become the leader of this country.”

Said Musa

“The whole thing is unprecedented and totally unlawful as I said what they presumed to do is to conduct the House as if though its a court of law, completely denying the separation of powers that is guaranteed in our Constitution and we are saying we must stand up for the rule of law. When politicians are elected to serve in the Legislature and they make themselves judges then we are in a very dangerous phase in our democracy.”

Patrick Jones

“It remains to be seen whether the opposition will find its way back to the house and whether today’s reprimand will punish Said Musa or propel him to become the next Prime Minister. Patrick Jones for News Five.”

The P.U.P. is expected to review its options on returning to the House while it develops strategy for elections to be held no later than October of this year. As Dean Barrow hinted, in the months to come, his party is expected to squeeze Said Musa even more, and will try to make him the centerpiece of its electoral campaign.

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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