BELIZE CITY, Fri. Oct. 2, 2020– A number of laws were passed on Wednesday, September 30, at what was possibly the last meeting of the Senate under this current administration.
Some legislation passed during the meeting include the General Revenue Supplementary Appropriations Bill 2020, which allows the Government to disburse an additional 27 million dollars across ministries during this fiscal year; the Land Tax Amendment Bill, which empowers the Minister of Lands to remit land taxes in cases of a national emergency; and also, the widely approved Cyber Crimes Bill 2020.
Other matters that were dealt with included the ratification of the Air Services Agreement between the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Belize. This agreement between the two countries will provide for ease of travel between Belize and Taiwan.
A bill to amend the Treasury notes was also passed, effectively allowing the Government to borrow an additional $200,000,000 if needs be, by raising the principal sums of Treasury notes.
The Immigration Act was also amended to allow for free movement of Caribbean nationals, and the definitions in the act were expanded to include the spouse of those persons to whom the terms in the Act apply. This was coupled with an amendment to the Caribbean Communities Movement of Skilled Persons Act, which also saw the inclusion of additional definitions.
As was the case in the House of Representatives, the Land Tax Amendment Bill was debated at length in the Senate, but was ultimately passed. Senator Mark Lizarraga, in his comments, said that he would never support a bill that lends relief to those who do not need it.
Lizarraga said, “The problem we have with this piece of legislation is, as we’ve had with similar pieces of legislation intending to give relief to those that owe taxes, land taxes specifically, over the years … it lends the possibilities for relief to those people in our view, that do not deserve it.”
The Cyber Crime Bill 2020 received wide support from the senators. They expressed gratitude to all entities and persons involved in the creation of the bill.
The senators also called for a full and robust public education program to make the public aware of the bill, and of the penalties, including fines and confinement, that the bill mandates for persons who are found guilty of committing an act of cybercrime.
An act to establish a Radiation Safety and Security Office was also passed, along with amendments to the Defense Act. Additionally, an amendment to the Representation of the People’s Act restricts the sale of alcohol on election day.
Senators took the opportunity to thank each other, and bid each other farewell after the five years they spent working together in the upper house of our National Assembly.
They also commended president of the Senate Darrell Bradley’s leadership and guidance in the Senate. One such commendation came from Senator Godwin Hulse, Leader of Government Business, who told Bradley, “Mr. President, finally, thank you; you have been different from the 5 presidents I know, but you have been forceful and strong and you are Darrell Bradley, you have your style, you don’t get up to eat, nor drink nor get up to go to the bathroom; that’s great.” Senator Michel Chebat, lead Opposition senator, also thanked Bradley, saying, “If you would allow me, Mr. President, just a few seconds to join my colleagues in thanking you for the leadership you provided to us in the Senate over the year and a half.”
Bradley said, “I want to say that it has been my great pleasure to chair these proceedings for almost a year and three months. I have met many of you senators when I came to this bench, and my admiration for you over the period has only grown.”
Remarks were also made by Senator Mark Lizarraga, Business Senator, who said, “I have had two terms in the Senate. I’ve tried my best to represent those that I represent and I thank them for that responsibility and privilege, one that I took seriously. I gave it my all and I hope I didn’t fall short.” Attorney-General Senator Michael Peyrefitte, for his part, said, “I have no doubt that the 13 of us in here come here every time with a passion for Belize, a love for Belize and a firm desire to see us grow to the highest level that we can possibly grow.”
Senator Osmany Salas, Senator Representing NGOs, commented, “I really appreciate the level of discussion that we have had here, especially if you compare it to that of the lower chamber. I really appreciate the maturity we have displayed in this upper house. I think we have really set an example.” Senator Aldo Salazar, in his comments, expressed a similar view of the mutual respect that was exhibited among the senators. “It surely has been an honor to serve. I know to those watching, it may seem at times that we really don’t like each other very much, and certainly we don’t see eye to eye — government, and the Opposition, especially on the policies of Government, but I believe that I can safely say that we do get along,” he said.
Senator Carla Barnett, in her comments, actually gave a bit of advice to those who will form a new Senate, saying, “I would want to encourage, as we come to the end of this Senate period and as we cross the election and move into the new phase, that the new Senate, when it is formed, looks at how we process, how we perceive. There is a need to update standing orders, those kinds of things.”
Notably, Senator Pastor Rocke, who represented Belize’s churches, remarked, “I will tell you, first off, that some of the people that I expected should have supported me the best were the ones who gave me the hardest time; that’s my church family, some of them.”