Features — 20 December 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Belize Nationality Amendment Bill and Gender Neutral Rape Bill amendments pass

PUP try again, but no Senate inquiry into Penner passport scandal

The Senate on Wednesday passed a suite of amendments to Belize’s Nationality, Passport and Immigration Acts, put forward by the Barrow administration after major cracks were exposed in the system for the issuance of Belizean passports and visas.

Meanwhile, the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) continues to call for an independent Senate inquiry into the allegations of misconduct by ranking government officials—including ministers of Cabinet—who have been fingered as key facilitators to corrupt deals.

For a second time, the PUP attempted to get the Senate to support a motion for such a Senate inquiry, but this time around, the motion didn’t even reach the order papers.President of the Senate, Marco Pech, said that the PUP Senator who was proposing the second motion, was trying to reintroduce a motion that had already been voted down.

But at yesterday’s Senate meeting, some members said that the Government’s attempt to pass new legislation without having carried out a comprehensive investigation—called for by the Opposition and supported by the social partners—amounts to an ineffective quick fix—a Band-Aid measure that would not go far enough to deal with the real problems which exist.

Before the bills were passed by the House of Representatives last Thursday, all three bills were reportedly the subject of a meeting of the National Security and Immigration House Committee, which an official source told us lasted just a few minutes—just as House member Michael Finnegan had told Amandala in an interview some weeks ago was a frequent occurrence in Parliament. He described the committees as “dysfunctional.”

The National Assembly indicated to us that there was no discussion on the bills at that House Committee meeting, led by Hon. Mark King, the United Democratic Party member for Lake I, and attended by six politicians. Furthermore, the National Assembly has said that no written comments were submitted on the bills.

We were told that the Opposition People’s United Party made it clear in that committee meeting that they would not support the proposed bills – on the insistence that the Senate inquiry must ensue. The stalemate meant that no discussion took place on the bills, and we were told that the meeting was quickly ended with a decision for the bills to be sent back to Parliament for passage.

However, the debate at yesterday’s Senate meeting was feisty. Opposition People’s United Party Senator Lisa Shoman walked out of the meeting in protest of what she said is a habit by the President of the Senate to rush through the reading of the bills, rather than taking them clause by clause for proper review, which would take place in the “Committee of the Whole” in the Senate.

Shoman proceeded to give a lackluster “C-” grade to the Belize Nationality Amendment Bill, saying that it only addresses 20% of the problems affecting Belizean nationality and identity. She went on to compare the legislative measures to poorly done road works which quickly wash away.

Meanwhile, the social partners asked for the suite of bills to be put on hold for refinement, and they called for further consultation.

“How can we seek to repair weaknesses in a broken system without the benefits of any completed investigations?” questioned Mark Lizarraga, the Senator for the private sector.

Leader of Government Business, Godwin Hulse, said that with the changes being put into effect, the information on persons proposed as candidates for Belizean nationality would be made public and feedback would be allowed on the application. Moreover, he said, anything done by fraud could be rescinded. He said that the laws could and would be strengthened.

Apart from the Immigration, Nationality and Passport Amendments, another highlight of this week’s Senate meeting—the last for this financial year—was the passage of amendments to the Criminal Code – dubbed the Gender Neutral Rape Bill.

Lizarraga took issue with certain portions of the bill, particularly a clause that suggests that men can consent to sodomy, which is illegal in Belize. That is because the law would now include a provision which says that sex between men without consent would be considered rape, under the new amendment.

Also, the National Assembly has confirmed that a $2.8 million loan write-off motion for the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, approved at last Thursday’s House meeting, should be deferred for further refinement.

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