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Home Editorial Nov. 11: battle for control of our treasury during a pandemic

Nov. 11: battle for control of our treasury during a pandemic

With the dissolution of the House of Representatives on October 6, and the announcement of November 11, 2020 as the date for the people to decide which political party will control our assets for the next five years, there will be increased activity as the aspirants for the 31 vacant area representative seats get into high gear to win over the voters.

The world has been in the grip of a pandemic since March this year, and the campaign and the election will take place during a period when Belize is going through a particularly tough time with the disease; in fact, we just experienced our worst week since the pandemic began. In the seven days between September 30 and October 6, we recorded 300 new infections and 8 deaths.

COVID-19 will/should affect the way most of the candidates go about conducting their campaigns this election season. Those who are good leadership material will be aware of their responsibility to ensure that they are not the cause of increased cases of the disease among the people they are offering themselves to lead.

It does not appear that things will be getting better very soon, because with the PGIA reopening for tourists and an increased flow of Belizeans returning home from the US, there is likely to be greater exposure of the country to the disease. The candidates and their teams must at all times maintain the social distance requirement of at least six feet when they are out canvassing the voters, and they must wear masks, and wash their hands with soap and water frequently.

COVID-19 has negatively impacted the efforts of Belizeans who insist on better governance from our leaders. Most of us are fed up with our political leaders’ corruption and lack of transparency when conducting government business, and in February, about a month before we recorded our first case of the disease, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) marched through the streets of Belize City to highlight demands they had made for the improvement of our governance.

The NTUCB’s demands called for campaign financing laws, implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), tabling of the Senate report on suspected illegal activities at the Immigration Department, restructuring of the Integrity Commission and the Public Accounts Committee, sanctioning of persons if it’s been proven that they violated provisions of the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act (No. 12 of 2005), and a thorough investigation into Hon. John Saldivar’s financial dealings with very unsavory characters.

Those demands must be met if we will ensure better governance when we elect a new government, but they have been on the backburner since the pandemic gripped the country. Those demands should come to the fore again now that the election has been called. Belizeans are completely fed up with the corruption and lack of transparency of our political leaders, so they are likely to favor those candidates/parties that they believe will address these critical issues.

We are fairly certain of the list of candidates and parties that will be contesting the general election, but it won’t be official until October 21, which has been declared Nomination Day for the ninth general elections since independence. The two major parties, the PUP and the UDP, have a full slate of candidates, while two third parties, the BPP and the BPF, will be fielding candidates in select divisions. A few independent candidates have also indicated that they will be putting their names on the ballot on Nomination Day.

Although third parties have very often put up candidates of high intellectual capacity and character, no third party or independent candidate has ever gained a seat in the House of Representatives in the fifteen general elections held in Belize since universal adult suffrage, beginning in 1954. Belize has always used the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system, and that places the independent candidates and the candidates of the third parties at a distinct disadvantage.

The third parties have clamored for the country to replace the FPTP system with the Proportional Representation system, which they argue would be a lot more fair, but the main parties have refused to change a system that favors them.

Belize Peace Movement challenge

A date for the general election has been set — November 11, 2020, but if a Belize Peace Movement (BPM) challenge involving the Elections and Boundaries Commission (EBC) is upheld, the date quite likely would have to be pushed back. The BPM has announced that it will file for an injunction in the courts, to force the EBC to embark on a redistricting exercise to satisfy section 90 (1) (a) of Belize’s Constitution, which calls for our electoral districts to have “as nearly as may be an equal number of persons eligible to vote.”

Over time, because of the way people have settled around the country and the physical limitations of certain areas, some electoral districts have grown more than others. Stann Creek West, Belize’s largest electoral district, has more than five times the electors that Fort George, the smallest electoral district, has.

The BPM says they have called on both major parties to take a stance on the matter of redistricting, and the only reply came from the PUP, which said that they would address the matter after the general election if they win, a response that was not considered satisfactory by the BPM.

The BPM was joined by Lord Ashcroft, as an interested party, and he has hired an international expert who has reportedly come up with a reasonable plan for redistricting. If the court were to grant the injunction the BPM seeks, it is yet to be seen whether the redistricting done by the expert would be acceptable to the EBC, the body that has responsibility for this exercise, and where it would go from there.

In August 2016, the Amandala, in an article titled, “Voters in 2020 may find themselves in different divisions,” said at that time that “redistricting could commence as early as next year [2017], led by a government-appointed task force,” and that then chairman of the EBC, Mr. Doug Singh, had said that “the decision on how constituencies will be redrawn would ultimately be made by the National Assembly.” We must note that there is no National Assembly to rule on redistricting at this time, since that body was dissolved on October 6.

It’s a matter for the courts, and so we will have to wait to see.

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