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Aug 22, 2008

Opposition debates sixth Amendment Bill

Story PictureThat decision by the Prime Minister did not affect the debate of those amendments. There were enough objections and support in the national consultations held around the country weeks ago, but today the politicians had their say. First to stand up and contest some changes was Freetown Area Rep Francis Fonseca who spoke of section seventeen, which vests petroleum and mineral rights in the government and people of Belize, and the recall amendment. According to Fonseca, while he is pleased that the U.D.P. government has drafted the much called-for subsidiary legislation to accompany the recall mechanism, he still can’t support it.

Francis Fonseca, Area Rep., Freetown
“So we can embrace the spirit in which the new recall law is being advanced. I tink everybody understands the spirit in which it is being advanced. What we cannot and should not embrace, however, is a deformed recall law which I believe is grounded in political mischief and backroom deals.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Mr. Speaker, I wish to point that we are not debating and cannot debate the draft recall law. The member seems to want to get into that. I understand that to some extent he can use that as background to say whether or not he supports the constitutional amendment but he can’t get into the details of the proposed law because that proposed law will come before the House and that proposed law will be debated then. That proposed law will also go before the appropriate committee of the House and people will be able to make submissions on the draft and that proposed law will no doubt be changed before it is passed by this House. So I just wanted to say, Mr. Speaker, that it appears to me that he wants to get into the merits of the proposed ordinary law, which at this stage is only a draft and which is not up for debate.”

Francis Fonseca
“Mr. Speaker, respectfully, it would be nonsensical of me to discuss the proposed amendment without refereeing to the law. It has been our position from the very beginning and indeed it has been the position of the Belizean people through the public consultations and the Bar Association that we could not take a position on the proposed amendment unless we saw the proposed legislation that accompanies the amendment. So how can I speak to the proposed amendment and say whether or not I am in support of it or against it if I cannot speak to the law that accompanies? That is nonsensical. Please, if I am to debate the proposed amendment, I have to be able to speak to the proposed law. That is not against any standing order.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“I absolutely protest. Mr. Speaker, the standing orders are clear. Of course, we have to abide by your ruling. Can I ask you for a ruling sir?”

Emil Arguelles, Speaker of the House
“I will allow some reference to that subsidiary law. However, it is in bill stage and can still be adjusted by the government at the relevant time.”

Francis Fonseca
“I don’t know what the government is afraid of. You have put the law out there, you have put the law out there to … you talk a lot about public consultation and about listening to the people, well you have put the proposed legislation—Mr. Speaker, the government has put the proposed legislation out there for all and sundry to look at and to review. Obviously, it is intended to provoke debate. It is obviously intended to provoke debate and discussion on it and I am making my contribution to it. In any case, Mr. Speaker, I believe that there are several fundamental concerns which attach to the proposed amendments which are tied to the law. The law, as you will see, speaks to the thirty percent petition trigger, which I believe is too low. It will lead to ongoing mischief and further erode and undermine confidence in our political system.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“You said you would allow some reference but he’s getting into the merits of the law. We don’t have a problem debating the law out there; that’s why we circulated it. The standing order talks clearly about anticipation. That is going to be brought to the House and that is when the House debates it. We can debate it in the public arena. We are happy to take you on with a debate anytime, but you can’t do it here. Those are the rules man.”

John Briceño, Orange Walk Central
“The other concern we have with the sixth amendment to the constitution is the issue of bundling. And by bundling we mean that the government has decided to put a number of amendments to its constitution and there are several of them that we have absolutely no problems with such as the three terms for prime minister. I mean we certainly have absolutely no problem in supporting that. But when you bundle everything, it ties our hands that we either have to say yes to everything or no to everything when obviously, that is not our position. It is very serious business when it comes to tampering and amending the constitution. It is serious business when you’re talking about changing the fundamental rights and freedoms of Belizeans. So I am appealing to the Government that if they would hold back these amendments so we can have further consultation with the Belizean people.”

After the debate wrapped up the names of the representatives were called one by one for their ayes or nays. Not surprisingly, there were twenty-five ayes, five nays, and one absent because the member for Fort George was not present.

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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