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Home Features Political games: PUP tit for tat

Political games: PUP tit for tat

SourceCharles X

Sun. June 4, 2021– It is clear from the headline of today’s The Belize Times, the mouthpiece of the governing People’s United Party, that it is that political party’s intention to further exacerbate the upheaval within the Opposition United Democratic Party by putting the full spotlight on the new Opposition Leader’s past criminal record, and milking it for all its political worth. For sure, it is rubbing salt into UDP wounds, but, with the opposition party’s battery of experienced lawyers, it is unlikely that the PUP really believes this proposed 11th Amendment bill will stand all the way to the CCJ.

Neither did the UDP, we suspect, when they were in government, really believe they could have sent then former Prime Minister, PUP leader Said Musa, to jail on a charge of theft, for Musa’s use of monies which had been donated by Taiwan for poverty alleviation, to pay a loan in connection with the then Universal Health Services hospital, for which the Government of Belize had provided a guarantee. It was great political theater for the UDP government to smear the character of their opponent; but in the end, the case had to be thrown out. This 11th Amendment fiasco is beginning to look like it is the PUP’s revenge on the UDP for that previous offense. Ideally, of course, it would have pleased the blue party much more to get back one at the former P.M.; but as the street saying goes, “If yo kyan ketch Harry, ketch i shut;” and in this case, Shyne works just fine for the PUP revenge game.

The Belizean people did, in effect, give a massive mandate to the PUP on November 11, 2020. But they, the PUP, know very well that the Belizean voters were sending a message of rejection to the corrupt UDP, rather than an endorsement of everything PUP. After all, the PUP have not exactly been saints either. And certainly, there was nothing in the blue manifesto or the pre-election discourse to suggest that voters wanted such extreme tampering with the election criteria. Belizeans know quite well and good who they want in, and who they don’t; and they have spoken eloquently. They don’t need any new government to tell them whom they can and whom they can’t vote for next time. The next thing you know, if this trend is allowed to continue, they will be disqualifying all credible opposition candidates from our elections. It’s a slippery slope. And we would prefer to surmise that this is just a case of political mischief, rather than unnecessary muzzling of our electoral voice.

Our unions cried out for an end to corruption; and they have been pushing for the implementation of the UNCAC from 2013 when the teachers were on strike. The blue PlanBelize looks to deliver, but with the proposed 11th Amendment, they are getting into areas they were not called to interfere with. Our laws are already there to monitor who is eligible to stand for election to the House, and the field has been level enough all these years. Our problem is when individuals get elected to the House, and the corruption sets in. There is where we need the anti-corruption rules to be tightened up. Regardless of their non-prison background, there are many potential criminals in the House at any given time; and we need better laws to prevent any of them from having a free hand at stealing the people’s assets.

The architects of our Constitution did well enough in maintaining an open field for small and big people to have equal chances at running for election to our House of Representatives. The safeguards and restrictions they placed in Section 57 and 58 were adequate in striking a balance between democratic freedom of the individual and the social responsibility inherent in the post being aspired to. And it is absolutely noteworthy that Section 58 clearly uses the present tense (“is”) in referring to disqualification due to the serving of prison sentences.

Interestingly, it is almost the same in the Constitutions of sister Caribbean countries Jamaica and Barbados, for example. Like Belize’s Constitution before this 11th Amendment was proposed, theirs also disqualify individuals from being elected to the House due to prison sentences, but only if the person, in the case of Jamaica, “is under a sentence of death…”; “is serving a sentence of imprisonment…”; or “is under such a sentence… which is suspended”; and “no account shall be taken of a sentence of imprisonment imposed as an alternative to or in default of the payment of a fine.” In the case of Barbados, it only applies if the person “is under sentence of death…”; “is serving a sentence of imprisonment…”; or “is under such a sentence… which has been suspended;” and, again, “no account shall be taken of a sentence of imprisonment imposed as an alternative to or in default of the payment of a fine.”

Belize’s Section 58 (1) currently states: “No person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives who …(d) is under sentence of death… or is serving a sentence of imprisonment… or is under such a sentence of imprisonment the execution of which has been suspended…”

There are many circumstances listed in those various Constitutions where an individual may be barred from election to the House, but having served prison time in the past is NOT listed as one of them. Prison time only matters in instances where the individual IS STILL SERVING a prison sentence or is in a situation where prison time is currently being avoided only because the sentence is suspended. And even being under a suspended prison sentence is not a disqualifier if it is “in default of the payment of a fine.”

What the 11th Amendment seeks to do is to disqualify a person from running for office if that person “has served a sentence of imprisonment for more than twelve months…” That’s for something in the past; and that’s a whole new ball game. Our nation has much bigger fish to fry right now, like really orchestrating the process of marijuana legalization so that small people benefit too, and not only the big sharks that always gobble up everything, leaving us to kill off one another in the scramble for the crumbs.

If this 11th Amendment becomes law as is, Belize would be sending a very strong and wrong signal to our Commonwealth sister nations. This proposed bill has already served its political purpose for the governing PUP, so why not just send it “back to committee” for revamping. We do need to fix our laws to fight corruption; but please spare us the cost and the wasted energy, dear members on the government side, and let’s get it right this time.

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