BELIZE CITY, Mon. Apr. 27, 2020– A motion to extend the National State of Emergency for another 60 days was introduced in a Special Sitting of the House of Representatives this morning by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who, after the House meeting, expressed surprise at the blistering criticism that was directed at his government from the Opposition side, because PUP leader, Hon. John Briceño, sits as co-chair of the National Oversight Committee, which had recommended the 60-day extension.
Today’s House meeting was unusual in two respects: firstly, only a quorum of seven members of the House was present in order to observe the social distancing rules under the State of Emergency, and secondly, someone made the controversial decision to lock the media out of the proceedings.
The House Speaker, Hon. Laura Longsworth-Tucker, under whose purview that responsibility lies, later said that the lockout was not done under her instructions.
The meeting, however, was live-streamed on the Government’s Press Office Facebook page.
Present for the meeting were Prime Minister Barrow (Queen’s Square area representative) and three of his Cabinet Ministers — Housing Minister Hon. Michael Finnegan (Mesopotamia area rep); Hon. Pablo Marin (Corozal Bay area rep), Minister of Health; and Hon. Anthony “Boots” Martinez (Port Loyola), Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation.
The Opposition side was represented by Hon. John Briceño (Orange Walk Central area rep); First National Deputy Leader, Hon. Cordel Hyde (Lake Independence area rep), and Hon. Julius Espat (Cayo South area rep).
In reading the motion, Prime Minister Barrow told the House, “”NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that this Honourable House, being satisfied that a period of public emergency persists in the entire country of Belize as a result of the outbreak of the infectious disease known as COVID-19, hereby extends the period of public emergency in the country of Belize for a further period of two months.”
In debating the motion, PUP leader John Briceño told the House that the PUP parliamentary caucus “has approved their support on extent to the national state of emergency for 30 days starting May 1st, 2020, and I’ll explain why.” “This is our recommendation, because our public health authorities, people with specialization in public health, epidemiology, clinical health and hospital management, believe that keeping people at home for 30 more days represents our best means of further containing the spread of the coronavirus at this time,” he then said.
Hon. Cordel Hyde also expressed his sentiments that the State of Emergency should be extended for an additional 30 days, rather than two months.
“We should do it for 30 days and, if needs be, then we come back to the House after 30 days for this reason, because I felt that the last few weeks have been rough on the Belizean people and I felt almost instinctively that they would have cringed at the thought of 60 more days, like the previous few weeks,” Hon. Hyde said.
“So if for only that reason, I felt like we should have in the first instance, say 30 days, and if needs be, we come back and extend it for however long we think it is required. And I still think that, but I also know that we should be absolutely honest with the people of Belize because we are not out of the woods yet, and I am afraid that the last few days of this victory lap of no new cases, of this talk of easing restrictions, have begun to give our people a false sense of security,” Hyde further noted.
Hyde also railed against the government’s food pantry program and the unemployment assistance that the government has been providing for persons who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. “We need to distribute food to our needy people”, Hyde urged the government, “because a lot of our people are jobless and suffering”.
Hon. Hyde said that he observed that a lot of people have stopped wearing masks, and he urged Belizeans to wear masks for each other’s protection.
“What we know for a fact, Madame Speaker, is that the opening up of our economy or easing of restrictions has to be accompanied with robust testing. There has to be testing, testing, testing, so that the truest picture of what’s out there is revealed to us,” said Hon. Hyde.
Hon. Julius Espat told the House of Representatives that before he made his presentation, he wanted to thank all the frontline workers in Belize, without which Belize would be in a worse situation.
Espat went on to say that the PUP’s proposal for a one-month extension is a more balanced approach.
Espat also expressed the view that there is no need for a State of Emergency, saying that other countries have shown that it is possible to contain the pandemic without a State of Emergency.
Barrow, in defending the motion, told the House, “This motion before the House today asks for an extension of the State of Emergency for 2 months. This is not something that I came up with on my own. This is not something that the Cabinet of Belize came up with, this is something that was fully and thoroughly discussed at the National Oversight Committee, which the Leader of the Opposition co-chairs, and it was only after that thorough going discussion, because we talked about the various options, that the vote was taken that resulted in the National Oversight Committee, in effect, directing me to bring to the House the motion for an extension for the State of Emergency for 2 months.
“That vote of the National Oversight Committee was unanimous. The Leader of the Opposition was part of that unanimity. I need to tell this House, I need to tell the Leader of the Opposition and I need to tell the People’s United Party, I will do absolutely nothing to encourage any kind of breakup of that national unity effort, so he can act in a way that I might consider bad faith, he can holler what he wants to holler, he can scream till the cows come home — I will not respond. If he and the PUP want to go, let them go on their own.”
The motion was taken through all of its stages and passed the House. It was sent to the Senate, which meets tomorrow, Tuesday, in a Special Session, which will be attended by just a limited number of Senators.