BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 5, 2021– On Friday, July 2, the 11th Amendment to the Belize Constitution was introduced in the House of Representatives by Minister Henry Charles Usher. This amendment would establish additional grounds for the disqualification of persons seeking to become members of the National Assembly.
Specifically, the legislation contains clauses that would prohibit persons who have been convicted of a crime and who served a resulting prison sentence from sitting as a member of the House. It must be noted that the new Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Shyne Barrow (Mesopotamia area rep), finds himself in the direct crosshairs of this constitutional amendment, since he served an almost 10-year sentence for his involvement in a shooting in New York. It is also important to note that, unlike the principal Act to which the amendment would be added, the language that is used in the draft of the proposed provision is placed in the past tense when referring to actions that could disqualify an aspiring parliamentarian — thus possibly giving the amendment a retroactive effect.
Section 58 (1) (da) of the draft amendment bill disqualifies persons who have served a prison sentence of more than 12 months outside Belize. Subsection (dB) adds provisions for those whose sentence is still in effect or ongoing.
Section 59(3) (a) was also amended to disqualify persons who have been convicted for offenses related to corruption and abuse of public office, or for election-related offenses.
“After widespread consultations, including ongoing talks with the Unions, the need for anti-corruption legislation has been made clear, and what better way than to include stricter disqualification measures for those seeking to represent Belize in the National Assembly. There are those, Madam Speaker, who believe this is all about them. I just hope the City Council is receiving full payment for those glam license plates,” Minister of Public Service, Constitutional & Political Reform, Henry Usher stated.
The bill appears to be directly aimed at Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, who has vigorously opposed and condemned the proposed amendment — calling it a classist and inhumane piece of legislation. He has said publicly that he is willing to take action against this amendment, to the highest courts if needs be.
“I just feel that it is an arbitrary amendment, and that is why the social partners insist with the 9th amendment, the 10th amendment, and now the 11th amendment that no amendment of the Constitution should take place until there is a convening of a constitutional reform commission so that we can reform the entire Constitution and reform it with bi-partisan participation, not just politically driven motives as we see on full display, where a legislation is, in essence, targeting the Leader of the Opposition to try to prevent me from being able to be re-elected when I’ve already been elected,” Hon. Barrow said.
Hon. Shyne’s condemnation of the 11th Amendment Bill has been echoed by his father, former Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, who had hitherto been silent since his exit from electoral politics last November but who stepped back into the public domain to make his views known following this apparently orchestrated attempt to end his son’s political career.
He called the introduced legislation outrageous and an act of war against marginalized citizens. He then referred to Deputy Prime Minister Cordel Hyde (Lake Independence area rep), and other Southside area representatives, many of whose constituents were convicted of criminal offenses during their youth.
“All the others that represent Southside constituencies where there are poor, marginalized young people — what about the young men and young women who, as I say, are marginalized, come from dirt-poor conditions, steal and commit other offenses almost out of necessity? Somebody like that goes to jail for more than a year, comes out, turns around his or her life, goes to school, goes to university, gets a Ph.D. — such a person can’t run under the law. It is absolutely outrageous. It is an act of war against marginalized people.” the former Prime Minister pointed out.
In his comments, first aired on the UDP’s Wave radio station, the elder Barrow attempted to illustrate the damning effect of the bill by citing the conviction of national Hero Philip Goldson, who was jailed for subversive activity, and noted that Goldson would have been barred from membership in the National Assembly as a result of the 11th Amendment.
He also referred to the 1981 arrest and subsequent acquittal of Evan X Hyde, the publisher of the Amandala, for seditious conspiracy and housebreaking, and pointed out that Hyde subsequently ran for office and served as a Senator, but he failed to note, in his comparison, that Hyde was acquitted in both cases.
In Shyne’s case, he was not only convicted of a violent offense, but also served an extensive sentence — making his disqualification from serving in Parliament almost inevitable if this amendment is passed.
For his part, Shyne is echoing the calls from the social partners, who, as previously mentioned, have asked the government to carry out a revision of the Constitution by convening a Political Reform Commission before implementing any new amendment to the Constitution.