Are they operating legally? And within the law?
So it is rather interesting that there is a non-governmental organization that has as its sole focus the yes-ICJ vote. This NGO is named Citizens Defense of Sovereignty and is headed by Assad Shoman, who has literally been on an all-out campaign to convince voters to vote yes come Referendum Day on 10th April, 2019. Now it is absolutely fascinating to me that an NGO would be formed to do this because it does not fall within any of the definitions and purposes of an NGO. Do note we have a legislation named the Non-Governmental Organisations Act, Chapter 315 of the Laws of Belize (hereinafter NGO Act) and it clearly states what an NGO can do in terms of its purpose and objective. So I will challenge any reader to tell me if an NGO can have as one of its objectives ‘to convince Belizean voters to vote yes in a campaign addressing the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute’. And I specifically ask this because from my vantage point I do not see how on earth an NGO could be formed for this purpose. But stay with me as I discuss this matter.
NGO to be consistent with the principles of the Constitution
I think too many laws in Belize are not known by the Belizean people and the journalists just do not do their homework to use it as basis to question their interviewees. I recall Assad Shoman giving an interview to Jose Sanchez regarding his NGO and I was amazed that Assad got away with so much and when the interview was done we were not any wiser nor smarter. So let’s see how an NGO is defined per section 3.-(1) of the NGO Act:
“A Non-Governmental Organisation is 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.” (Emphasis mine for a reason.)
So the question we need to ask is whether Citizens Defense of Sovereignty (hereinafter CDS) is acting in a manner consistent with our constitution and its preamble, which states amongst other things: WHEREAS the people of Belize- …. (e) require policies of state which protect and safeguard the unity, freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize; which eliminate economic and social privilege and disparity among the citizens of Belize whether by race, colour, creed or sex; which protect the rights of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; which preserve the right of the individual to the ownership of private property and the right to operate private businesses; which prohibit the exploitation of man by man or by the state; which ensure a just system of social security and welfare; which protect the environment; which promote international peace, security and co-operation among nations, the establishment of a just and equitable international economic and social order in the world with respect for international law and treaty obligations in the dealings among nations;…”
So my question is whether Assad Shoman, fronting for his donors and supporters, has been advocating for “policies of state which protect and safeguard the unity, freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize” by telling people to vote yes to the ICJ?
From my little perch the answer is NO! Rather it is promoting an interest that has caused disunity, because it is operating more like a political party with a partisan agenda instead of a NGO that would not tell people how to vote on this kind of issue, but instead would look at all the processes that will lead to a referendum and also seek to protect the right of people to freely choose, without being bribed, coerced, misled, scared, belittled, bullied etc. Paragraph (c) of the Preamble states that we “believe that the will of the people shall form the basis of government in a democratic society” and thus the free unimpeded, un-coerced will of the people to freely decide a yes or no vote on the issue of going into the ICJ is likewise critical. Therefore no NGO should be promoting a one-sided campaign or appear to be colluding with the government in the process. As a matter of fact the NGO Act at Sec. 3(2) makes it clear that an NGO must be independent from government control in its operations. Here is the provision verbatim.
“(2) Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, but subject to section 13(2) of the Belize Constitution, a Non-Governmental Organisation shall also have the following attributes and characteristics:- (a) it shall be independent of Government control in its operations and management; (b) its aims, objects and purposes shall be to achieve sustainable human development on a voluntary, non-profit basis; (c) its business and affairs shall be under the management and control of a Board of Directors, elected to office for a period and in a manner specified in its Articles of Association, and no member of the Board of Directors or an officer or employee of the Non-Governmental Organisation shall have any interest in using the objects, aims and purposes of the Non Governmental Organisation for personal gain or profit; and (d) its activities in and within Belize shall be consistent with the principles and provisions of the Belize Constitution.”
Is the campaign of CDS one of sustainable human development?
It is rather interesting that the NGO must not only promote the principles and provisions of the Constitution, but must also promote sustainable human development. For the purpose of the Constitution and the NGO Act a laundry list of what constitutes sustainable human development was listed at section 7 of the NGO Act. I opine that the promotion of a yes campaign in a territorial dispute is not one of the fourteen (14) listed activities. The fourteenth item, which is open-ended, still would not capture their activity in my view. It states: “any other programme of activities which promotes sustainable human development.”
Thus my question is how could an NGO created to tell people they must vote yes-ICJ at the referendum on 10th April, 2019 be considered one lawfully operating, when its activity is more of a political, partisan nature and one that creates national disunity and one that is not transparent in its activities? I opine this is an abuse of the NGO process and laws, which will go unchecked as this government’s agenda is being promoted.
Per the information out in the media, Assad Shoman and Godfrey Smith, who is now a judge, have teamed up to help government promote their yes-ICJ campaign. (See LoveFM’s news report at http://lovefm.com/citizens-defence-sovereignty-wants-vote-yes-icj/). Their aim is to (QUOTE) “embrace and promote the concept of sovereignty of peoples and the struggle for freedom, justice and equality as integral and necessary components thereof”. That being said, I do not see how telling people to vote to take Guatemala’s claim to the ICJ could constitute promoting the concept of sovereignty of people, when you are asking a court to determine a dispute, in which if we lose a portion of Belize, the sovereignty of Belize is damaged. It would be different if they were disseminating information on the history of the dispute etc., but not telling people how to vote!
Assad did not disclose who are the group of people forming the NGO but stated: “…we define sovereignty in the broadest terms that included the sovereignty of persons and the people, not just of nations, and it implies a certain amount of our concern for concepts like Freedom, Justice and Equality and so on, so this is an organization that will promote a lot of other things apart from the question of the ICJ Referendum …” I still don’t see how telling people how to vote instead of ensuring they register and come out to vote, is promoting sovereignty. And their approach is surely not promoting freedom of thought, conscience nor action, because they are adamant on telling voters how to vote! And I have issue with that!
Where is the CDS’s money coming from?
Per Shoman, he seems dismissive of having to disclose his donors, as his interview with Jose Sanchez revealed.
Jose Sanchez: ”Is this something that is in relation or funded by the Referendum Unit, or is this completely you on your own?”
Assad Shoman: ”It is not me on my own, no, it is a few people; however, we are being supported by some businessmen and some other people who at this moment do not want to have their names known. One of them is Godfrey Smith, so he has allowed us to use his office, for example, and all the facilities of the office, etc. and now the businessman has loaned us a vehicle which I am using right now here in Belmopan, and another one that we met here this year, he has given us some cash: a few thousand and so on, so it’s that sort of thing.”
Well those few thousand are surely buying lots of billboards across the country and that for sure is already in the hundreds of thousands, and then there are the radio and television ads and the countrywide presentations. They can try and downplay the expenses, but I want to ask if Assad Shoman is working for free here and if the rest of the staff, which is a well-oiled group going around as staff, are working for free?
I know that by law when this NGO – CDS, applied for NGO status, which also gives them tax-exemption status, one of the requirements as to funding is as follows:
“the maximum annual estimated revenues and grants of the Non-Governmental Organisation and, for a Non-Governmental Organisation with revenues of at least twenty-five thousand dollars per annum, the audited accounts of the Non-Governmental Organisation for the previous financial year, duly audited by an independent auditor, and for a Non-Governmental Organisation with annual revenues below twenty-five thousand dollars per annum, the statement of accounts for the Non-Governmental Organisation prepared by its accountant or bookkeeper;”
So I ask again, “Assad Shoman and your ‘few people,’ tell us who are the shadow directors behind this NGO and your source of funding!” We the people deserve and have the right to know, since you entered an arena where you have taken a partisan side on an issue of national importance, that will impact not only on our sovereignty, but on our territorial integrity!