By Gilroy Usher, Sr.
Wednesday, April 17, 2019
“Patriotism is supporting your county all the time, and your government when it deserves it”- Mark Twain
Last week Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin granted an injunction against the holding of the Referendum on April 10th, 2019 until the case brought by the Opposition is heard. The ruling was made because, the C.J. thought there was possible merit to the Opposition’s claim that the Referendum would be unlawful if it was held without the necessary approval from the House of Representatives.
This is not the time for scapegoating. Individuals and concerned organizations should be encouraged to demand respect for the law and proper consultation with the people and /or their Representatives on any pertinent issue in the nation.
Both major political parties fully support holding a referendum to let the Belizean people decide (Yes or No) on whether to take the Guatemalan dispute to the ICJ for a final and binding settlement. Dealing with Guatemalan dispute is a national issue. It requires bipartisan support. All efforts by the Opposition to work with the administration on the ICJ matter have been flatly rejected by the P.M. and his ministers. This administration needs to stop being stubborn, arrogant, and too proud to accept valid and practical suggestions from the Opposition in dealing with the ICJ and other major issues.
If the administration had acted with such maturity, many flaws with the ICJ campaign including the writ for the execution of the referendum, could have been corrected months ago without the need for an litigation.
In a referendum, it is the duty of the government to present both sides of an issue to the public to enable the people to vote Yes or No based on facts. Belmopan can’t try to ram a Yes vote down the people’s throat with a totally biased (yes) campaign and nonsense of an ironclad case after losing all its so-called ironclad cases at home and abroad and not expect push back from people who know better.
From the start of re-registration in July last year, the government has turned a deaf ear to the justifiable request of the Opposition and many other concerned organizations that it needs to fix the mess at Vital Stats that has prevented over 2,000 born Belizeans, most of whom had been registered for ten or more years, from registering to vote in the referendum and future elections. This administration has done every thing under the sun to register over five thousand immigrants, most of whom are Guatemalans, for the referendum and future elections. Someone has to stand up for Belizeans who can’t register, though no fault of their own.
Before it held its referendum, Guatemala insisted that Belize change the threshold for a referendum from a 2/3 majority of the votes cast to a simple majority of the votes cast, as a show of good faith in negotiations on the ICJ issue. Belize readily complied with that request. In a similar way before holding its referendum Belize should insist that Guatemala implement a Sarstoon Protocol, that was agreed to in Turkey over a year ago, as a show of good faith on the ICJ issue. That is a very important step, since neither the ICJ nor the Security Council which is an arm of the United Nations, has an army to enforce its decisions. If Guatemala cannot be trusted to abide by agreements it has made with Belize or with Britain for Belize in the past, how can Belizeans feel secure that it will abide by the decision of the ICJ if it rules against it?
Finally, Belize is a democracy that is governed by laws. Ministers need to have the “intestinal fortitude” to tell the P.M. that he has to abide by the laws of the country. What kind of example is the P.M. showing the nation when at press conferences he repeatedly castigates Judges of the Supreme Court for not ruling in favor of his government, and openly tries to tell the Judges of the High Court to abandon their protocol to hear matters and give decisions to his timing? It is this same previously unchallenged overreach of his authority that made the P.M. feel he could 1) hold a Referendum without adhering to the Referendum Act and 2) repeatedly violate the Finance and Audit Act with totally immunity.
With the postponement of the referendum the nation now has the opportunity to get things right before a new date is set for the special voting.