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Jul 7, 2008

Bar Association discusses constitutional amendments

Story PictureWith a solid majority in the House of Representatives, the Government has proposed a series of amendments to the constitution as part of its legislative agenda. And for weeks, the Constitution and Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives has been canvassing the country to hold public consultations on the proposed amendments to the constitution. This Wednesday, the six-member group will be in Belize City at the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall to put forth the eighteen amendments and hear the views of the public. The most controversial amendment is to section seventeen of the constitution which offers protection from deprivation of property. Government is proposing that all property rights in petroleum and minerals be vested in the government. Other issues to be discussed include a three-term limit for the prime minister, recall of an elected representative, extending the powers of the senate and enlarging its membership so those nominated by the opposition and N.G.O.s constitute the majority; and reconstituting the legal and judicial services commission. At the end of May, the Belize Bar Association released a Position Paper on the amendments and this afternoon President Jackie Marshalleck gave News Five its view on two of the controversial proposals.

Jackie Marshalleck, President, Bar Association
“On section seventeen we support the position of the government placing in the constitution the fact that petroleum minerals and accompanying substances will be for the government and people of Belize. We think that is entirely proper that those assets be something that will benefit all the people of Belize. What we are concerned about is that the amendments will mean that section seventeen which protects your rights not to be deprived of your property with proper compensation. That will no longer apply in relation to those assets. Also, it means that you will not necessarily have access to the courts to determine your interests if any with relation to that property. That is something that we are very concerned about because we think that while the government should be entitled to the minerals and accompanying substances to those, people should still have the rights to access the courts if they need to, to determine their interests.”

“We are concerned about the removal of some of the powers of the Senate. Let me say that the powers of the Senate are also going to be greatly expanded under these amendments so we definitely support those amendments to increase the powers, but the powers of the Senate will be reduced in that they will no longer be able to approve judicial appointments. I think some diplomatic posts will no longer have the approval of the Senate or the Senate will not be consulted in relation to those. Also, the Senate will no longer be consulted in the event that there is to be an amendment to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people. And that we are very, very concerned about.”

Viewers will recall that government decided not to go through with the preventative detention amendment after it was vehemently opposed by the public. The Constitution and Foreign Affairs Committee is chaired by Minister of Education Patrick Faber and has as its members Governance Improvement Minister John Saldivar, Cayo South Area Rep, Ramon Witz; Corozal North Area Rep, Nemencio Acosta; P.U.P. Leader John Briceño, and Freetown Area Rep Francis Fonseca.

So far the committee has been to Punta Gorda, Corozal Town, San Ignacio, Dangriga, Orange Walk Town, and San Pedro. The Belize City consultation is slated to start at six p.m. at the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall, which will put Belmopan as the last stop. The general public is being invited to attend the meeting and express its opinions or make recommendations. According to Marshalleck, residents should use the opportunity to become informed.

Jackie Marshalleck
“If you haven’t been a part of the process at this point and you are not quite sure what is going on, we would encourage you to come out and hear what is going on, be informed. I am hoping that it is something that people familiarize themselves with, even if it is from the perspective of knowing how you are going to be governed. You should know, we should all know what the constitution says and how it’s going to affect us. It’s something that we rely on for our basic fundamental rights, so amendments should never be taken lightly, even when you don’t offer any objection to them, you should at least know what the changes are and how they will affect you.”

The Bar Association’s Position Paper is available online at Marshalleck says the document has been forwarded to the government, but they have yet to receive any formal response from them.

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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