BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 8, 2021– A little over a week ago, the four members of the Senate who represent the social partners wrote to the Prime Minister to suggest that a Constitutional Assembly be established to review our laws and draft a modern Constitution over a two-year period. The suggestion was prompted by the current administration’s plans at the time to introduce bills in the House of Representatives that would attach the 10th and 11th Amendments to the Belize Constitution, something unprecedented for such a young administration. The four social partner senators — Senator Elena Smith, who represents the unions in the country; Senator Osmany Salas, the NGO senator; Senator A. Moses Benguche, who represents the churches; and Senator Kevin Herrera, the representative of the business community — addressed the letter to Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño.
The senators are concerned that the 10th Amendment will strip the autonomous, constitutionally designated bodies of their impartiality and freedom from political influence. That amendment would make it necessary for the offices of the Belize Advisory Council, Election and Boundaries Commission, Public Service Commission, and Security Services Commission to be vacated when the National Assembly is dissolved. While the objective of the legislation is to allow a newly elected government to choose representation on these important bodies, the senators are calling the move a departure from the good governance principles enshrined in this administration’s Good Governance in Belize Motion 2021.
They stated in their letter that the amendment bill departs from four key provisions of the Belize Constitution which enshrine the impartiality of the four bodies affected by the amendment. The letter from the four senators says, “Linking the tenure of all the members of the four affected bodies to election cycles removes any impartiality or the semblance thereof.”
The senators also noted that the four bodies are “lumped together” in the bill, and according to the senators, the grouping of the bodies in such a manner suggests that the key functions of the bodies are not being fully considered. They stated that each of the bodies has a unique role and is charged with upholding key pillars of democracy.
They additionally observed that the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, also a constitutionally designated body, is not included in the bill, and they pointed out as well that a White Paper giving an explanation for the reason for this amendment has not been presented by the government.
The letter states, “This bill would be the second amendment to the Constitution in the young life of your Administration. Such a piecemeal approach to amending the Constitution is not advisable, because it is not based on a thorough and carefully considered review process.”
Yesterday, after the sitting of the Senate, the representative for the NGO community, Senator Osmany Salas, told local media, “If we want to amend the Constitution we need to ensure that we are not doing it through a piecemeal approach, lest we run the risk of tinkering with the Constitution. This year will make 40 years that we have been independent and in all that time there have been, with the ninth one that was just passed by the current administration, nine amendments in 40 years.”
He added, “I’m sharing that to take home the point that we need to be careful when we are amending the Constitution. This current administration, now with the eleventh proposed amendment, if they get their way they would have had three amendments to the Constitution in let’s say a matter of eight months. Now they have the power to do that, they have a supermajority, they have the two-thirds and three-fourths required to amend the Constitution after the 90-day period. But might does not necessarily make right,” he further said.
As mentioned, the senators are recommending a stepping back from the proposed amendments and that a broad-based Constitutional Assembly be established to revisit the laws of Belize and redraft the Constitution over a two-year period.
“This would give the Belizean people the opportunity to participate in preparing our Constitution, an opportunity that they did not have when we secured Independence,” the letter stated.