Last week was phenomenal. I was still delightfully ruminating over an article in the Amandala written by Jerry Enriquez in which he conceptualized a special Garifuna ceremony in the National Assembly to chastise and cleanse the House of wicked and deviant politicians when I heard four outstanding senior citizens pronounce loudly and clearly on reform. These citizens are Don Hector Silva, Dr. Theodore Aranda, Mr. Paul Rodriguez and Amandala columnist Janus.
Don Hector spoke on Krem’s WUB of the need for a third force in Belizean politics. Dr. Aranda told his morning show host, among other things, that both major political parties had been corrupted. Mr. Rodriguez spoke of the need for reform by way of a specially elected Senate. Columnist Janus in last weekend’s issue of the Amandala built upon the proposals presented by Mr. Rodriguez.
Except for the Janus, who was an outstanding Speaker of the House and a retired senior public officer, the other elder statesmen were former politicians serving in various capacities of one or the other or of both predominant political parties of Belize. These men are heavyweights and their contribution to the reform debate must therefore be considered as special.
The proposals for an elected Senate captivated me most. Notwithstanding that an elected Senate was approved by the Political Reform Commission in 2000; that a referendum on the said subject was passed by Belizeans in 2008, and that both major political parties have at different times made manifesto pledges to enact legislation for an elected Senate, such a crucial reform measure remains a pipe dream for reformists, probably in view of the fact that a detailed but yet simple and practical proposition on the elected Senate has only until now emerged. The proposal of the elders is simple, to the point and not obscured by the additional feature of proportional representation which is incorporated into other proposals that have been presented.
Both Janus and Mr. Rodriguez are proposing direct election of senators based on minimum age (60 or 65 years), competence, and proven integrity. Additionally and importantly, they are proposing public funding for candidates vying for elections. This is a crucial aspect of the reform measure designed to ensure that senators maintain their independence and impartiality and that the elections are not subjected to the coercive factors associated with current day electioneering process. The minimum age requirements also ensure that only the best candidates will be considered, since at such age, the candidate’s personal and public life would have been exposed to voters.
An elected Senate under the present first-past-the-post electoral system, even combined with some system of proportional representation, runs the risk of contamination by the present day major political parties to the extent that the outcome of such elections would mirror the present day PUDP (PUP and UDP) dominated House of Assembly. This would defeat the main thrust of the reform effort.
I commend the elder statesmen for making far-reaching proposals to strengthen our system of governance. May I humbly suggest that they should now go forward and convert those proposals into draft legislation which can then be placed as an agenda item for the next legitimate meeting of the House.