Latest — 30 March 2019 — by Rowland A. Parks
PM Barrow shuts door in the face of diaspora Belizeans

BELMOPAN, Thurs. Mar. 28, 2019– The private member’s bill, sponsored by the area representative for Caribbean Shores, Hon. Kareem Musa, (PUP) that would have amended the Representation of the People’s Act and allowed for diaspora Belizeans to vote in the ICJ referendum, forgoing the two month-residency requirement, was dead on arrival when it was introduced on the floor of the House shortly before midnight on Tuesday night.

The Bill made it onto the order paper for Tuesday’s business at the House of Representatives meeting when the budget debate was in its second and final day, but it was voted down by the members of the government side, following a division during which parliamentarians voted individually.

In his introduction to the bill, Hon. Musa declared: “Madame Speaker, I rise to introduce a Private Member’s Bill, pursuant to Standing Order 83 of the House of Representatives, and it is a bill to amend the Representation of the People’s Act, Chapter 9 of the Substantive Laws of Belize, Revised Edition 2011, to provide the right to vote and register as electors in the Belize/Guatemala referendum to citizens of Belize living abroad, notwithstanding the failure to satisfy the two-month continuous residence requirement and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Madame Speaker, as you are aware, the Section 83 for private bills, 83 – 4, states that the petition shall be presented by being lodged with the clerk. This has been done and shall be read at the first ordinary sitting of the House after it is so lodged and thereupon the Speaker shall put the question that the promoters be allowed to proceed.”

Before Hon. Musa could finish speaking, however, Prime Minister Dean Barrow rose to declare that the member was out of order and that it was an abuse of the House process.

PM Barrow declared, “My application is that this is out of order. It is an abuse of process, because the objectives that, according to the honorable member the petitioner, the objectives that the bill is designed to achieve cannot happen, not on the basis of things as they are and we must proceed on that basis. So what is the purpose of this, Madame Speaker?

Barrow then went on to say, “Madam Speaker, I would like a ruling on my objection. Suppose the House was to say yes, it is a moot point.”

The member for Freetown, Hon. Francis Fonseca, intervened on Musa’s behalf, telling the House that the matter was on the Order Paper, and if the member was presenting the bill, then a determination had to be made in accordance with the Standing Order. Fonseca added that if it was felt that it was an abuse of the House, then it should not have been placed on the Order Paper.

Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Patrick Faber, then questioned whether the bill satisfied all the requirements to come before the House, “because it could take up to three or four months to follow the process.”

Musa explained that he had followed the process and had done all the necessary advertisements since last September. The Clerk of the House then showed Faber the documents.   Both Barrow and Faber tried to steer the Speaker, Hon. Laura Tucker-Longsworth, away from a vote.

The Speaker said that members would have to decide if the matter would go forward.

Faber then said that Musa was grandstanding so that he could go back and tell the petitioners (leaders of the diaspora community) that he had tried to make it possible for them to participate in the referendum.

At this juncture, the Speaker of the House declared: “Honorable members: The question is that the promoters of this bill be allowed to proceed. All those in favor, kindly say aye; those against, kindly say, no.”

Hon. Musa then said: “Madame Speaker, may I please have a division of the House?”

So the House vote was done by individual members, with all members on the government side registering their no vote and all the Opposition members voting yes to the amendment.

With the Opposition side not having the requisite numbers to carry the measure, the initiative failed, leaving in its wake the reality that the government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow refused to accommodate diaspora Belizeans in the existential question on whether to take the Guatemalan claim to the ICJ, which will be decided in a referendum on April 10.

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