There are credible rumors circulating that the Barrow administration intends to expand the number of electoral divisions from 31 to 41 — a whopping 32.25% increase in the size of the House of Representatives. Incredibly, the Barrow administration wants to re-district before carrying out the re-registration exercise that is due by law, come mid 2017. That is like a man putting on his pants before he puts on his underwear; sure he is wearing both, but they are in the wrong order. Belizeans have a name for that: Alan Barton.
Section 90 of the Belize Constitution assigns the responsibility to decide on the number and nature of electoral divisions to the Belize Elections and Boundaries Commission. The sole qualifications set out in the Constitution is (1) that each division shall have nearly as equal number of voters as possible and (2) that the number of seats shall not be less than 28. The role of the Elections and Boundaries Commission in the proper exercise of our democracy is therefore weighty but, like many other institutions created to protect our democracy, the Elections and Boundaries Commission has been hijacked by the political parties. I shall leave this discourse for another time.
The underlying reason being advanced for the addition of 10 new seats by operatives of the Barrow administration is the constitutional provision of Section 90 of the Constitution relating to the equality of number of voters in each division. So rather than re-register and then re-district, so that the 31 divisions have nearly as equal a number of voters as possible, the Barrow administration wants to split those large divisions such as Belmopan into two or more divisions. This is strictly a political decision to try and secure an unprecedented fourth term. It may be good for the politicians, but it is utterly bad for Belize.
Belize does not need more electoral seats; what we need is better representatives. I am of the view, particularly having had firsthand experience in the electoral process, that the small size of our electoral divisions has led to the harmful practice of personal politics. Such practice has done nothing but facilitated corruption, instigated vote-trading and bred a culture of political dependency. Together these factors have stifled Belize’s national development. The current practice has been great for the politicians but brutally unwholesome for the average Belizean—such wicked irony!
To meet the constitutional provisions described above the Barrow administration should set a date for re-registration in 2017 and thereafter re-district such that the number of registered voters are as equal as possible in each of the six districts. Perhaps the teachers should add this to their list of good governance issues to discuss with the Emperor.
Larger divisions, in my view, would mean the same number of representatives in the House (31) as opposed to smaller divisions which would mean more representatives (41) but a larger governance structure. The latter would cost the Belizean people more money to sustain without any guarantee of better governance. Larger divisions would also mean that candidates would have to become issue-oriented, thus reducing the corrupting influence of vote-trading on the outcome of elections.
If we look in the Caribbean, both Jamaica and Barbados have larger average-size electoral divisions than Belize, with 29,249 and 8,189 registered voters, respectively. In Jamaica there are 63 electoral seats and their largest district, Westmoreland Central, has 42,533 registered voters compared to its smallest division, St. Andrew North Eastern, which has 19,347 registered voters. Barbados, a country with almost the same population as Belize, has 30 electoral seats with an average size of 8,189 registered voters. The largest division, St. Philip South, has 10,338 registered voters, whilst the smallest division, St Michael South Central, has 6,913 registered voters.
Contrast this with the situation in Belize where the average size for each division is 6,391, with the largest division, Belmopan, having 9,394 registered voters whilst Fort George, the smallest division, has a mere 3,099 registered voters.
If Jamaica had such small electoral divisions as Belize they would have a House of Representatives with 438 seats — larger than the United States which has a population of more than 324 million but only 435 seats in the House of Representatives.
Even if we were to examine this issue from the perspective of actual number of citizens represented per average seat, Belize would still not fare well. With a population of 324,528 (2000 Census) and with 41 seats, Belize would have one representative in the House for every 7,915 citizens. Contrast that with Barbados at 9,260; Jamaica at 44,498; the US at 745,100 and India at 2,305,709 citizens per representative in the House.
No matter how you look at it, an enlarged House of Representatives is nothing more than a political attempt by the Barrow administration to hoodwink the Belizean people. More representatives is no guarantee of better governance, but it is a sure guarantee of increased expenses to the people of Belize, and an expanded opportunity to invite more political bandits to feed at the public trough.
Belizeans should reject any attempt by the Barrow administration to expand the House of Representatives from 31 to 41. It simply is not good for Belize.
Major Lloyd Jones (Re’td)