Wednesday, March 17, 2019
What happened in the House last Friday was a sad day for the Rule of Law in Belize. There are some who argue it was unconstitutional or at least contrary to the Standing Orders of the House to be introducing a Bill and ramming it through in one sitting on a live matter still before the court. But that is a matter for the constitutional and bush lawyers among us.
What is certainly true is that Dean Barrow is once again trying to circumvent the Judiciary the way he did with the BTL matter, the illegal spending of the Petrocaribe dollars and most recently the GST David Gegg case. The Belize (Territorial Dispute) Referendum Bill, 2019 had nothing to do with the referendum, rather it was Barrow’s attempt to rub salve on his bruised ego. He was exposed and humiliated by the Chief Justice, and he lashed out, criticizing the decision while at the same time trying to pass on the blame to the Chief Elections Officer and her legal advisor, presumably the Attorney General. He said he would go to his grave convinced that the CJ was wrong, even after the Court of Appeal told him to slow his roll. But rather than listen to sound advice, Barrow rolled the dice once again and in the process trampled all over the Separation of Powers principle.
The result was a rushed and sloppily drafted Bill that addressed none of the salient points that have doomed this process since 2008. Barrow knows that the Bill is faulty and inadequate. He knows that this blanket legislation is full of holes. But instead of taking the proper time and consulting the Opposition, he presented his magic wand legislation as if he were now the fairy godmother. But this isn’t a fairy-tale, Barrow. This is Belize, our country, our home, and we will stand up to defend her from all threats, foreign and domestic.
Sinking in the quicksand of their own making, the UDP reacted the way they always do. Blame the PUP. They spent a quarter million dollars to bus a few hundred people to Belmopan, accompanied by the usual accoutrements. There were even reports that some of the buses were prevented from leaving certain areas unless and until the deportee shelled out more money. How democratic of them! Then they shouted that they were trying ‘to give’ the people the right to vote in the referendum and the other side was against. Hogwash! First, the right to a referendum is enshrined; it is not Barrow’s to give and nobody can take away. Second, if the process is flawed then the result will be bogus, worthless and certainly challengeable.
The Special Agreement has to be debated in the House. It is a binding treaty with possible effect on our Constitution. The attempt to incorporate into domestic law by simple majority can and will be challenged. But to please some visible and invisible masters, Barrow is rushing through, disregarding the Constitution and doing so in the shortest possible time. Why? Why abridge the time to 10 days? Why rush to the House without consulting the Opposition? And no, consulting with Lisa is not consulting the Opposition. In fact, Barrow said publicly that he was keeping it secret from the PUP. Guatemala ramping up the pressure for a referendum; the U.K. and U.S. writing press releases. Why? These are the questions that need answering. George Price stood up to the imperialists. Does Barrow have the spine to do the same?
Don’t get distracted by the House histrionics. It’s theatre. Those 30 men and women (30 because one seems to have forgotten he was elected to represent a constituency) were on stage acting and many were prone to hyperbole, which incidentally usually collapses under its own weight. Even the former PM who is usually even-keeled seemed caught up in the hype. His speech was all about the ICJ when that wasn’t the issue at hand. So his passionate plea was out of place and really nothing was said that he hasn’t said already. He did not support the Bill. He abstained, so the record is 18-11-1, again one short due to the missing hombre from the North. The media is not free from criticism either, because instead of soberly researching and analyzing the Bill, it focuses on the broadcasting the hyperbole.
The fact remains, however, the Bill is inadequate. The Bill is sloppily drafted. The Bill fails. And the result is more litigation, more delays, and more expenses. The Chief Justice gave Barrow an opportunity to take his foot off the accelerator and to get the process right. Instead, he pressed harder on the gas and the vehicle is out of control and heading straight into another legal wall. The irony is that the person who may very well be responsible for delaying the referendum indefinitely may be Dean Barrow himself.