Photo: Anthony Chanona, Chairman, People’s Constitutional Commission (PCC)
BELMOPAN, Mon. Nov. 14, 2022
Today, the process of modernizing the Belize Constitution officially began in earnest with the official launch of the People’s Constitutional Commission (PCC), which took place on the steps of the National Assembly building in Belmopan this afternoon. Representatives from various groups across Belize were present for the launching of the commission; many of them will be appointing representatives who will sit as commissioners and, after consultation, will bring the collective view of their communities for inclusion in the final report that is to be drafted and handed over to Prime Minister John Briceño and his executive.
Ultimately, the Belizean people will decide whether they want an entirely new constitution, or if the current one can be amended to bring it in line with the present-day Belizean reality. Citizens represented across the various groups will be asked to share their views and desires in consultations that will be carried out prior to the drafting of the updated contemporary Belizean Constitution, a legal instrument that should reflect Belizean values and principles, Hon. Henry Charles Usher, the Minister of Constitutional and Political Reform, said during his remarks at the launch.
“Should we as a sovereign independent nation continue to be told what to think? Or how to govern ourselves? Or should we advocate for the ability to make decisions that we believe are in the best interest of Belize? Will we finally appreciate that sovereignty does not reside in an island thousands of miles away but rather is firmly entrenched in the Belizean people?” Minister Usher asked during his remarks.
A deepening of democracy and focus on giving every Belizean, even those in the diaspora, an opportunity to contribute to the making of our new Constitution, is a primary goal of the PCC, and the chairman of the PCC, Anthony Chanona, like Minister Usher, noted that removing relics of colonialism will indeed be an important part of the process. He called the move to start the process of constitutional reform, “bold and progressive” leadership on the part of the Briceño administration.
“History will record, that it was at the juncture of its 42nd year of independence, that the Government of Prime Minister Briceño boldly chose to initiate progressive leadership to form by the first ever statute, a People Constitutional Commission. This body is mandated to conduct a comprehensive review of all 138 pages of the Belize Constitution and prepare and submit to the Prime Minister a final report on the findings of this review. Embedded in this consultative mandate is the suggestions to remove any relics of colonialism from within this document, in other words, to simultaneously soul search and modernize a new post-colonial constitution that reflects the will of the people and our collective future,” Chairman Chanona stated.
While the Constitution is known as the supreme law of the land, Chairman Chanona reminded those in attendance at the launch that the legal instrument was written by human beings and, as a result, is inevitably fallible.
“These documents are not sacred and should be subject to question, criticism, and change,” Chanona said.
He said that this launch of Belize’s PCC is a signal to the world that this is Belize’s second attempt at a review of its constitution. The 1981 Belize Constitution has been amended 10 times, and the question posed by Chairman Chanona is if that document fails to mirror the core values of the Belizean society.
“What, then, do Belizeans want to see in their constitution that is not there? If colonial relics are identified and recommended to be taken out, what are we to put in as our home-grown replacement remedies that would holistically address the needs, hopes and aspirations of our beautiful and peace-loving people?” Chanona asked.
The major task of the PCC will be to listen to and document the concerns and responses of Belizean communities on the various areas to be discussed during the constitutional reform process. This consultation should take place across the length and breadth of Belize and with the diaspora, according to Chanona.
Hon. Francis Fonseca, Minister of Education, said during his remarks that the Belizean people have never taken true ownership of the creation of the Constitution due to tension between political parties at the time that the 1981 Constitution was being drafted. He said that this PCC is an opportunity for Belizeans to do just that at this time.
“People’s full and effective participation in this process will ultimately determine the credibility and viability of the final product we achieve,” Hon. Fonseca said. He outlined that a widespread education campaign will surely be a key part of the process to ensure the Belizean people are fully informed of the issues placed before them during the consultative process.
“We must embrace this opportunity; we must make it meaningful. We have an opportunity to move from social media activism and armchair criticism to real participation in constitutional reform, thereby determining how we are governed,” Min. Fonseca said
Prime Minister John Briceño, during his keynote address, said that it is his administration’s desire to have the Belizean people decide what sort of government and system they want, instead of just complying with something that was inherited.
“This Constitution Commission is intended to make good on this promise enshrined in our Constitution. It is our sincere desire to have the people determine the kind of government they want, not something they inherited. But a system that at its core is progressive, inclusive, and 100% Belizean,” said PM Briceño.