Features — 11 October 2013 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

As a former leader of a leading Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), I got to learn a lot about the relevant guidelines pertaining to these and the level of scrutiny and accountability they endured. Nothing done by NGO’s can be secret or left unaccounted for. They have to file annual reports, audited statements and any amendment/resolution bringing changes to their structure of mission. Their records are open books accessible to anyone who wants to do a check. Thus, I was flabbergasted when I heard the government mouthpiece make attacks without verifying their information – then I knew they had to be acting out of pure maliciousness.

So, for the record, I want it to make it known, that unlike the perception government wants to give, that NGO’s need to be monitored more and made more accountable, that is sheer nonsense and their usual attack on any entity that challenges their modus operandi and status quo. Rather, the problem I had with the law as it stood, was that the Ministry responsible for NGO’s failed to do its part and monitor the NGO’s based on existing laws, and the company registry where they are first registered is also delinquent in their responsibility. My own inquiries showed that certain NGO’s set up by those politically-connected and needing a vehicle to solicit money for their own agenda, got away for some years with not submitting their required documentation and audits … But then again, they were well-connected and were not environmental NGO’s.

Somehow, when people hear the term “NGO’s,” they think about environmental NGO’s, but that is not so. Chapter 315 of the laws of Belize defines an NGO as: “a legal entity formed as a company limited by guarantee under the Companies Act whose aims, nature and objects, direct or indirect, are consistent with the principles enshrined in the preamble to the Belize Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all those international and regional human rights treaties and instruments to which Belize is a party, and are designed to contribute to sustainable human development in Belize.”

One-sided law

The difference now is that Government has instituted the basis on which they want to go after NGO’s to close them down and thus, as the Bill states, it was to “create offences.” This is so funny because it has refused to create offences where the Department of the Environment fails or refuses to act, to comply with certain prescribed process or the like.

Two major issues jump out at me and that is that NGO’s, if found guilty of an offence are liable upon summary conviction as follows:

(a) If a natural person to a fine that is not less than fifty thousand dollars but which shall not be in excess of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars or to imprisonment for a term of two years or both;

(b) If that person is a legal person or other entity to a fine that is not less than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars but which shall not be in excess of five hundred thousand dollars.

So this is the penalty if the NGO commits any offence under the Act. But for a point of comparison I would like to show what the Petroleum Act states, since it is important to show how one-sided this government is when it comes to their sense of justice. NGO’s are people movements that seek to look after the public interest and are known to be great social workers; they act as checks and balances to governments and do not fear challenging corrupt governments. That is while multi-million dollar businesses such as the petroleum industry are known to take advantage of people, exploit resources and collude with corrupt officials and in bed with governments. They are also known to intentionally violate laws and then just pay the fine, because their profit and worth can afford to just do as they please, pay the measly fine and move on.

The only penal clause in the Petroleum Act is found at Section 8(3) and it states:

(3) Any person who contravenes Subsection (2) commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction-

(a) in the case of an individual, to a fine not exceeding five thousand dollars ($5,000) or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two (2) years, or to both such fine and period of imprisonment; or

(b) in the case of a body corporate, to a fine not exceeding ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Now to my second point: This penalty section only applies to Subsection Two, which states: “(2) No petroleum operations shall be conducted in Belize by any person other than the Government unless such person has entered into a contract in accordance with this Act.” Yet the provisions under the NGO Act apply to the entire Act. So other prohibitions under the Petroleum Act have no penalty clause, so no deterrence mechanism! Just what is expected from a government which has shown it prefers the foreign investors over the local people’s movements! This has to be brought to an end!

Why is the government going after NGO’s? Well, because groups such as BYGEA, COLA, APAMO, Coalition and Oceana have challenged their outright bad and corrupt system. But they are in bed, no pun intended, with groups such as UNIBAM, who are promoting a lifestyle known to be a criminal activity in this country by our laws, Section 53, that does not allows anal sex with any person be it men, women or children.

Slackness upon slackness

Thus to help UNIBAM not to be declared an illegal entity, [and punished under this new law] because it has as its mission the promotion of an act that is illegal, the government simultaneously is seeking to pass a law that is now decriminalizing what UNIBAM’s mission to support is. Because honestly, the NGO Act makes it clear that you cannot cite as your mission the promotion of something that is contrary to our laws or constitution. By our local laws, anal sex by men with men or any unnatural form of sex is deemed illegal. So if you have an entity promoting this lifestyle, this includes BFLA, then you are acting contrary to the law and now with the new NGO Act in place both entities are in violation. As a matter of fact, the Registrar of NGO’s has turned a blind eye that they registered at least one of them knowing or after learning that their sole mission is to promote an act that is contrary to our law, under the guise of human rights, which in its original form is a lawful purpose. But because our laws do not recognize the sexual slackness as lawful, these two entities should be the first that the Registrar investigates.

But like I said, the “unibamers” are in bed with government, and this I mean literally, since many in government are practicing sodomites and sleeping with each other against the order of nature. So it seems this was already well thought out and the Criminal Code amendment is now quickly seeking to legalize what otherwise was illegal, so that the now illegal mission is given some legitimacy.

My cry has been to improve the rape laws against children, but under that guise they are improving it to protect and promote a slack lifestyle of sodomy and unnatural acts. I guess because those promoting it have never had a child raped, sexually abused, and exploited, from their little ivory towers they can only think how to protect their little slack lifestyle to the detriment of the rest of us.

What the amendment of the rape law effectively does is only criminalize the act of sodomy and unnatural acts amongst non-consenting persons, which is contrary to the essence of Section 53, which makes it illegal whether with or without consent, as it stems from the Biblical fact that it is an “abomination.”

Government, not court, rules on case!

Worse yet, to me what it does is undermine the upcoming court decision by the Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin, on the constitutionality of Section 53. The effect of this, sadly, is that de facto the government has handed down the ruling in the case and whatever pronouncement the court makes on the issue is only an academic exercise!

There is a very sad situation arising in the country and Belizeans are falling asleep at the wheel as the Prime Minister of this country, in my opinion, has found rather subtle ways to undermine the judiciary. For example, when the court ruled against the oil companies, Providence Energy and Princess Petroleum were told by him in a press conference that it was up to them if they wanted to obey the court order. This is what he said April 29, 2013: “There is one and our legal advice is that the Judge’s ruling, which seeks to injunct the Government, certainly cannot injunct the concession holder under that PSA. The concession holders were not before the Court, a matter that I consider a grievous omission. But that’s for the court, especially since the PSAs were as I say not quashed, that’s for the concession holder to determine whether it will proceed with whatever activity it was doing under the PSA.”

In keeping with his tactics, this time around we are still awaiting the ruling of CJ in the Section 53 case, a decision that should have been handed down before the court recessed in August, and sadly has been dragging on and thus inadvertently providing government time to undermine that decision whichever way it goes. But on no other occasion than the official ceremonies of our Independence, with the whole nation listening and with the CJ present, this is what the PM had to say on a matter that is still before the courts:

“Government will therefore fully respect the right of the churches to propagate their understanding of the morality, or immorality, of homosexuality. But what Government cannot do is to shirk its duty to ensure that all citizens, without exception, enjoy the full protection of the law. After all, the Belize Constitution that affirms the supremacy of God also affirms fundamental rights and the dignity of the individual human being. That same Constitution further declares that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to non-discrimination; to freedom from interference with their privacy; and to freedom from unlawful attacks on their honor and reputation.”

By so stating the PM already pronounced that, by his government’s standards, “homosexuality” or the act of sodomy and unnatural sex which Section 53 deals with, is already determined to be protected as a fundamental right and protected by their right to privacy, a matter recently argued before the Supreme Court of Belize and for which a decision is pending. Sadly, since he wanted to make a pronouncement on his government’s position of the laws, in fairness he should have also let Belizeans know that those rights are subject to laws that make reasonable provisions “that are required in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality, public health …”. One would think with the statistics showing an increase in HIV/AIDS amongst men having sex with men, they would understand the connection between public morality and health. But, like I said, everyone in power is looking after their self-interest, not national interest, and with whom and how they are having sex has become a matter of national importance above all else!

All about self-interest

Again true to form, while through international means we know that former Minister of State Elvin Penner was using his office to expedite a Korean fugitive defeat deportation to Korea to face charges of embezzlement by granting him a Belizean passport, the PM again already gave his ruling on Penner’s innocence.

Now Penner confessed that he influenced the process … here are his exact words: “[I] personally went with him to the passport office to see to it that he would get proper attention and would get his passport the same day.” The man Penner took to the office did get his passport the same day. Penner signed for it. He says he did not write in the date to back-date the nationality documents, but he signed, and in law you are responsible for what you sign. Yet it was with that document that the man got the passport, and Penner was there to see it happen. Marisol was right to put her question to the PM as she did, despite his trying to embarrass her.

But I think the embarrassment is on the PM and his Ministers, because it seems they have already determined there will be no criminal trial. I say this because of this interview given by the PM: “The party will rally around Elvin Penner. We believe that he deserves a second chance. We believe that we ought to help him persuade his constituents not to recall him.” This presupposes there will not be a trial and if there is, there will not be a conviction, which, if 12 months or more, disqualifies Penner from ever holding office again.

A second chance? This was his second chance – don’t forget he had already confessed to election bribes when he said he paid half of people’s nationality fees in return for their votes. And he had a hand in fast-tracking those overnight applications so that these immigrants got their voter’s id. Then as a reward, he is placed in charge of Immigration and Nationality? PM may not be counting how many chances Penner already got, but I am!

This recall law reminds me so much of the Referendum Act, which when I was finally intricately involved in testing such law, learnt that it was always just hot air. The government that amended it never intended for the people to have a say. The recall law now will be tested and the PM as UDP Party leader and Prime Minister, is behind the move to intimidate people not to sign the petition. Is that democracy? Is this the accountability and a government of integrity we were promised?

I do not know when we will ever get a government that is on the side of the people! But this one is not! They are all about SELF-INTEREST! God bless our people!

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