BELMOPAN, Fri. Apr. 23, 2021– While being interviewed on Friday, the Attorney General, Magali Marin Young, told the media that a lack of legal drafters inside her Ministry is a major factor contributing to the lag in the implementation of good governance legislation.
The unions are clamoring for the implementation of good governance measures as they engage in resistance against the Briceño administration’s scheduled salary cuts and increment freeze. The unions are saying that the government must first enact laws to battle corruption, maximize savings and recover misappropriated national assets before signing off on a salary cut. Government, on the other hand, says that saving 80 million dollars this year through the 10% salary cut is absolutely necessary.
While the disagreement between the Government and the unions is a direct result of the proposed cut to wages, the picket line is riddled with calls for the legislating of good governance measures under the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC).
Belize signed on to the convention in December 2016 following an 11-day strike by the Belize National Teachers Union. Those teachers, joined by the PSU, NTUCB, and APSSM, are now calling for the implementation of the legislation to activate the UNCAC in Belize after a 5-year delay.
The Attorney General says, however, that we may need to wait a bit longer. At this time, she is reporting that her Ministry has only two legal draftspersons on staff, hardly sufficient to handle the day-to-day drafting of legislation needed by the government, much less the drafting of high-level anti-corruption laws.
While Marin Young said the 13-year reign of the UDP administration, which left the ministry that she now heads in shambles, is to be blamed for the delay, she also reminded the public that this new administration has only been in office for 5 months or so.
“It has only been 5 months since we have taken office. I can assure you, Prime Minister Briceño remains committed to good governance. My ministry has to work along with the ministry responsible for Public Service, Political and Constitutional Reform to look at legislative measures, and we are looking at legislative measures, but I can also tell you that we inherited an Attorney General’s ministry that is grossly understaffed in terms of the legal drafting unit. I only have two trained legal drafters at the Attorney General’s ministry. And they can barely cope with the day-to-day legislative demands of government,” she said.
She added that since taking office she has reached out to various governments in a view to source legal drafters that could help in creating the anti-corruption legislation needed to enact the UNCAC.
“I can tell you that since taking office, because legal drafting is not a skill you develop overnight, there is actually specialized training that someone undergoes and gets a Master’s in legal drafting, so it is not a skill that overnight I can develop in the unit. So I have approached various governments. I have approached the US government for assistance. I have approached the High Commissioner of India when he visited Belize, to see if we could get legal drafters from that jurisdiction to assist us,” she added.
She informed the public that the UNDP has also offered to assist the country to draft the needed laws. The AG’s ministry is currently in the process of engaging with them.
While the shortage of staff in the Attorney General’s Ministry can account for the lag in the implementation of certain good governance legislation, Young pointed out that various other good governance measures have been put in place, as a show of good faith and as a start to the much-needed reform.
“Several good governance measures have in fact been enacted recently with the PAC. The standing orders were amended to allow a joint committee where the social partners were included, so that’s one measure. The other one is we have sought to impose time limits on the delivery of judgments; that’s a good governance measure. We have also tabled a public contracts commission bill; that’s another good governance measure. So it is a priority. We have to get it right. It is just a matter of being understaffed, under strain,” she said.
For years and across administrations, the AG’s ministry has suffered from staff shortages, making the execution of the department’s mandate a constant challenge.