Features — 16 August 2013

In a brief shining moment of understanding that a nation thrives best when its people participate as fully as possible in democratic government, a government of the People’s United Party gave the Belizean people that power in the form of the Referendum Act. As far as I am aware, there is no such law in the two foremost, formerly Christian democracies – Great Britain and the United States of America. Is it possible that in the philosophy of rule of, for, and by the people, we are more advanced than they are?

The Referendum Act was passed in 2000, eight years before the people rejected the PUP in the general election of 2008, giving the UDP an overwhelming mandate of 26 seats to 5; also, as long as eight years ago. Since then, there has been only one application, that by Oceana seeking to prevent the drilling for oil inside the Belize Barrier Reef, which is a World Heritage Site. In a few days, Oceana was able to obtain the required number of signatures to a petition for a referendum to ban offshore drilling in our Belizean sea. The signators were certified members of the Belizean electorate, as required. It is a matter of record that the Elections and Boundaries Commission, which is charged in the Act to validate the signatures to the petition, declared that the number of validated signatures did not meet the requirement.

There the matter rests even though, Oceana claims that the number of signatures submitted far exceeded the requirement. In view of the fact that the vast majority of our citizens looked forward to the opportunity to say yea or nay to oil drilling in the sea, that is why interested persons would like to know how did the Elections and Boundaries Commission go about determining which signatures were valid. Did they call in all our handwriting experts (we only have a few) to go through the lists of signatures? A waste of time and money. By the way, who are these experts? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to take ten names from the lists, at random, call the individuals and, if one denies signing, then, consider calling in the experts. Or perhaps, do another exercise before deciding FRAUD! This Referendum Act is too good a thing for us to allow good citizens, who put their party’s interest above the nation’s, to frustrate it.

What every citizen should know about the Referendum Act is that it provides the means by which groups of citizens who have a cause that they feel strongly about, can get the Belizean electorate to pass a judgment in favor or against their cause by casting their vote.

The Referendum Act says what issues may form the basis of a petition for a referendum; what the procedure is for filing a petition; how referendums are conducted; and, reporting the results i.e. whether the vote was in favor or against the cause. What then? The Act does not say that the Government is bound by the result of the referendum. Should the Government be bound is every case? I think the Government should state in advance what issues will end with a referendum vote and what will finally be determined in the House of Representatives.

I believe in the wisdom of the common people and, what better way is there for the Government to know the people’s will than by their direct vote on the ballot paper in elections on matters of public importance? The use of the referendum should be confined to a very small number of issues, like whether or not to submit our differendum with Guatemala to the ICJ and whether or not to make a significant amendment to the Constitution.

There are many issues of public importance where the will of the people should be sought and determined by direct participation in the decisions of government, e.g. amend the constitution so that no one political party can amend or suspend it; that there be a joint party National Development Plan; and minimum standards in health and education. There are other important subjects. The idea is that there should be the means for organizations like the unions, the business community, the churches, etc. to make petitions to the government for the required question to be put on the ballot, asking the electors to decide in favor or against. Appropriate government action will follow only if there is an affirmative vote.

Many of the public policies of state governments in America have their genesis in petitions like what is being proposed. This is not an attempt to reinvent the wheel.

Here I have to remark that there can be no doubt that the collective wisdom of the common people is superior to that of governments, political parties, bar associations, the guild of graduates, even the clergy.

The politicians submit themselves to the judgment of the electorate at election time. The people are never wrong. Vox populi, Vox Dei. Why then are they not willing to hear the voice of the people on matters of public importance, when they express a desire to be heard other than by choosing representatives to form a government?

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