Opposition Senator Lisa Shoman told Amandala today that the People’s United Party (PUP) would go to court if Parliament records Wednesday evening’s vote on the PUP motion for a Special Select Committee investigation into the passport and visa scandal as a 7-6 vote, with the President of the Senate voting to defeat the motion.
Shoman contends that under the Belize Constitution, the president of the Senate does not have a casting vote where there is a tie on a matter such as the one raised via the motion.
In that motion, the PUP called for the appointment of a 5-member select committee, made up of a member from the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), a member from the Opposition PUP, and three other members from among the social partners – one each from the private sector, unions and churches.
The motion called on the senate “to investigate and inquire into all policies, procedures and the issuance of nationality certificates, passports and visas in the Ministry of Immigration and Nationality and to investigate any and all irregularities and improprieties, as well as any and all mismanagement or corruption in the issuance of nationality certificates, passports and visas.”
The 7-point terms of reference proposed also adds that the Senate Special Select Committee should conduct its meetings in public, only with the exception of sittings held for deliberating matters which are the subject of the Committee, which would be held en camera.
When the motion was tabled Wednesday, all six UDP senators voted against it, and all the social partners – the private sector, the churches and the unions – voted in favor, along with the three Opposition senators. Consequently, there was a 6-6 tie, and the President of the Senate voted, breaking the tie.
However, Shoman protested: “I’m sorry, Mister President, but you don’t have a casting vote in this matter.”
Still, President Marco Pech went on to make his declaration that there are 6 votes in favor, and 7 against.
“So, I think the ‘no’s’ have it!” he asserted.
Amandala has confirmed from the National Assembly that the record reflects the vote as 7-6 on the motion.
Shoman will contest, though, on the basis of Section 61 of the Belize Constitution, which, she said, makes it clear that the president does not exercise a casting vote when such a motion is before the Senate.
She points to Section 61A (2) (d) of the Constitution which says that the President can’t vote where there is a vote for “instituting and conducting enquiries and investigations on any matter of public interest or importance, including inquiries into mismanagement or corruption by persons in the central government or public statutory bodies”—which is exactly the nature of the investigation proposed.
There is also the question of why the President felt the need to exercise a vote after the 6-6 tie was declared, since Section 61 (4) says that in any event, where there is a tie on the motion, “the motion shall be lost.”
Shoman told us that the President is not of the 12 senators; therefore the president doesn’t get a casting vote on this particular matter.
We were advised that Government’s legal counsel Gian Ghandi has indicated that the vote could be so recorded, since the President of the Senate was appointed Senator, which means he has an original – not a casting vote. We were also told that the decision of President Pech is final.
Shoman told our newspaper, though, that “If the president records that it was a 7-6 vote… I will go to court to get it corrected.”
Although a declaration in favor of the PUP would still not revive the motion, Shoman suggested that “this motion can be brought by the social partners” which would then mean that public pressure may cause the Government to reconsider.
Shoman also expressed the view that Leader of Government Business Godwin Hulse, who is the substantive Minister of Immigration, should have recused himself and abstained from voting on this motion.
Last Friday, when Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca previewed the motion for the Special Select Committee Investigation in the House of Representatives, UDP Leader, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, made it clear that his administration would not support the motion tabled this week.
“In my view, that is an absolutely misconceived and misguided attempt by the Opposition to grandstand. They have absolutely no moral authority to grandstand, in view of their history,” Barrow said.
He said that the Opposition needs to wait until the Auditor General produces her report; otherwise, the senators would be “chasing their tail.”
Shoman told us, though, that the Auditor General’s investigation is being used as a “red herring.”
She said that the Auditor General has a separate function from the Senate, and the Auditor General often laments that Government officials don’t turn over the records the office need to investigate.
She said that they maintain their call for a public senate hearing where officials can’t ignore the investigators.