Said Musa’s second term People’s United Party (PUP) government came under major fire in January of 2005 when the then Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) teamed up with the unions and social partners to engineer massive protests and public demonstrations against his administration.
Three years later, the PUP were ousted by landslide and the UDP voted into office on an anti-corruption platform. In fact, back then UDP Leader Dean Barrow had told our newspaper that his number one priority would be “restoring a sense of confidence in government by tackling in measurable ways the corruption issue, implementing a reform agenda.”
Today, though, the second term UDP administration is itself under serious fire after Cabinet Ministers in the Dean Barrow government have been publicly implicated in passport and visa hustles. On Wednesday this week the PUP, “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition,” announced it will bring out at least 1,000 supporters from the 14 constituencies it won in the 2012 elections to march Friday morning on Independence Hill and the National Assembly to decry what has been dubbed the “Penner Passport Scandal.”
Whereas National Security Minister John Saldivar has told the media that tomorrow morning’s protest won’t be anything like the 2005 protests, Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca told Amandala this evening, Thursday, that this is the beginning of a series of public demonstrations which will lead into 2014. Fonseca said that the protest is “in keeping with our calendar for stepping up our activities…”
The Opposition Leader said that the protest will be led primarily by Cayo North East, the constituency of the embattled Elvin Penner – the Minister of State who was axed in September from Cabinet on allegations of shady passport deals.
Fonseca said that while the protest is primarily motivated by the Penner issue, people will bring their own issues.
“People from Dangriga are still angry about their market,” said Fonseca, adding that Dangriga mayor Gilbert Swaso will be bringing his people in protest against the scandal that has rocked the Social Investment Fund (SIF).
“Mothers and families whose babies died at the [Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital], who were part of that tragedy” will also be protesting, Fonseca said.
He said that although they have not invited the Maya of Toledo, unhappy about petroleum exploration on their ancestral lands, to join in, the PUP plan on holding a meeting with them next week. The two PUP Toledo area reps from Toledo are bringing quite a few of the villagers, Fonseca informed.
While the Opposition plans to hold a fiery protest on the steps of the National Assembly today, inside there is expected to be much talk about the passport scandal and three new amendments the Barrow administration proposes as countermeasures.
Fonseca told us that he has heard rumors that the Government will introduce amendments to the laws in response to the passport/visa scandal; however, he told us that the item is not on the House meeting agenda he received Tuesday; neither has he seen any of the proposed legislative changes. The information delivered to him has no new items on the agenda, he said.
Amandala has been reliably informed that amendments are proposed to the nationality, immigration and passport acts.
Meanwhile, Fonseca told our newspaper that the PUP will not take issue with amendments to the Criminal Code which have been crafted to address sexual offenses. He told us that, “We support the bill, but we don’t believe that it has been properly finalized. We don’t have any philosophical objection and don’t object to content,” he added.
The Opposition Leader did say, though, that they don’t believe the bill was properly drafted, as there were a lot of drafting mistakes in the bill.
Amandala understands that members of the Constitution and Foreign Affairs, Privileges, Standing Orders and Regulations Committee held a third meeting on the proposed bill yesterday, Wednesday, and didn’t conclude their meeting until around 8:00 in the night.
Among those represented were the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions; the Belize Bar Association; Audrey Matura-Shepherd, attorney-at-law; and the Office of the Solicitor General – represented by Michelle Daley.
An official source told us that Daley, who is reportedly out of the country, is on the tail end of her contract here and is due to move away from Belize imminently. KREM Radio News reported this evening that Daley had been advised by her colleagues in Government that the amendments to the sexual offense laws would spell trouble because of the current controversy in Belize over the lobby to decriminalize unnatural intercourse.
Michelle Daley’s ex-husband happens to be Maurice Tomlinson, the Jamaican homosexual who remarried a man on the claim that he could not continue to repress his homosexuality. Tomlinson is challenging Belize’s Immigration law, which has provisions that restrict the entry into Belize of a person who may be receiving proceeds from prostitution or homosexuality. The Caribbean Court of Justice is due to hear that case later this month.
Meanwhile, the proposed amendments to the Belize Criminal Code introduce provisions that Government proponents say are intended to protect males against sexual offenses, as under current law the rape of a male by another male would be prosecuted as an unnatural crime. Prominent activists, including those in the church community, have seen the language in the bill as indicative of a covert move by Belizean authorities to legitimize same-sex relations.
Amandala has been informed that legal drafters have been working overtime to refine the second set of amendments to the Criminal Code, which have been the source and subject of wide public debate. We have been informed that the Criminal Code (Amendment) #2 Bill may be presented in the morning for introduction to Parliament, as the Government is “on an all-out effort” to ensure that the bill reaches Parliament today. (We were told late this evening that the amendments to the sexual offenses bill won’t be finished in time for tomorrow’s House meeting.)
Meanwhile, the Criminal Code (Amendment) #1, which was sent back from the Senate for refinements due to concerns over the provisions such as those on insider trading, should be presented to the House as well.
The High Seas Fishing Bill and the Medical Practitioners Bill are also due to be passed by the House of Representatives today.
One change we understand that should be included in the new bill is the replacement of the provision which criminalizes marital rape.