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Thursday, June 4, 2020
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Two viruses affecting Belize

Let me quickly address the virus of crime, corruption and killing. This virus has grown, and no vaccine seems to exist for it. It is a full pandemic, but we cannot get it addressed, because the very people who are supposed to address it have mutated into the virus. And the very people who are supposed to recognize the virus of crime, corruption and killing are embracing it.

In Belize, sadly, we the very people who suffer when there is crime, corruption and killings, actually promote it, propagate it, and embrace it. We have double standards, so no simple pill, or a vaccine will help us. Our attitude as a people is reflected in the National Assembly, where a Prime Minister can tell a Leader of the Opposition that “he forget fuh tek his simple pills”! We find this funny and do not denounce it. However, on the surface this is only indicative of the problem.

John Saldivar’s virus!

If we want to dig deeper and be true to ourselves, we can take the example of John Saldivar and how despite his wrongdoings and outright lie, there is a mass that supports him within his party and especially his constituency, despite it being now fully known that he not only lied to all of us, when he said he never had any dealings with Lev Dermen, the convicted fraudster sentenced by a court in Utah, but he also had the audacity to even lie to Cabinet and his leader and told him that his name would not be called in those allegations.

At that time investigative journalist Rhenae Nunez had already sounded the alarm on Facebook that it was John Saldivar whose name was in those documents, yet he vehemently denied it and even attacked her. Days before the UDP party leader convention he again issued the assurance that he was not the person implicated in those documents and that he did not take any money from, nor had any dealings with, this fraudster/criminal. Then those fateful text messages became public, and lo and behold, he was the culprit. He lied and lied and lied, then he had to resign, yet he had the audacity to go on television, where he tried to justify his corrupt and wrongful act. To date he has refused to explain how he got some Bz$100,000.00 (US$50,000.00) into this country without violating the laws which pertain to making statutory declaration of monies over $10,000.00.

His acts also showed the incompetence of the FIU (Financial Investigation Unit) and the Prime Minister, who issued a press release defending Saldivar and allowing him to take part in the convention against his opponent, Patrick Faber. Yet there are party loyalists who defended this, and then we turn around and wonder how come we have so much crime. White collar crime is no better than, or elevated to any special realm that exists above, street crime!

Let us not forget why we the general public demanded his resignation! We did it because in our estimation his acts were corrupt and criminal, despite the police not making any further headway in an investigation of his deeds.

However, with their impending investigation over his head, he has had the gall, as we would say in Kriol, to say that if Patrick Faber entered his name for the post of party leader of the UDP he too would enter his. Imagine, he really thinks highly of himself, as if his resignation was dependent on Faber never running for leader. He seems to forget that he was caught with his hands in the cooking jar asking for the March tranche of US$25,000.00 in advance. He got that money, and after the fact claims it was campaign financing money. Well, then, if it was campaign financing, how did he get that money into Belize to finance his campaign?

His wrongs have no limits, his “un-conscience-ness” has no limits, and the blindness and like level of corruption of heart of his followers likewise, have no limits. His conduct says lots about him, but also lots more about his supporters and the level of unethical and corrupt state of mind and heart of the people who are voters in this country. Then how in all good conscience can the UDP Secretariat even accept his application for leadership? Please tell me if that is truly the baseline standard of leadership in the UDP? If it is, I am sure that did not just happen overnight!

He is some virus, and his corruption has infected so many — those persons, I guess, who benefitted from those tranches, because we know it was not only for two months that he collected money. In the midst of yet another virus affecting our country, when we the people are focused on life and death, John Saldivar issues his threat against Faber and enters his name for leadership! What an “este”!

COVID-19 another virus, but not as deadly

From the looks of things, COVID is deadly, but even deadlier is the fact that as a nation we have accepted lies upon lies, crimes upon crimes, corruption upon corruption as a way of life. As the Ministry of Health takes steps to be proactive and assure protection of our citizenry, another great institution and pillar of our democracy has had to also consider its next move. Our judiciary, like other entities in the public and private sector, has also had to make a determination of its own.

The judiciary is a bastion of our democracy, and it has been serving us without ever coming to a halt, except for a few days when there has been a hurricane here or there. However, coronavirus is posing another threat which needs to be addressed immediately. This required the input of the Bar Association of Belize, which held an emergency meeting for its members and others of the legal fraternity to address the worldwide COVID-19 viral pandemic and its ramifications for our practice of law and the role of the judiciary.

A key participant at said meeting was his Lordship the Hon. Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin and other sitting Supreme Court justices, the Chief Magistrate, the Director of the Family Court, and members of the Court Registry Staff, who are responsible for the machinery of the judiciary and ensuring that the wheels of justice keep turning.

The Chief Justice explained that his focus was two-fold: one, to ensure the safety and protection of his staff and judges, and secondly, to ensure that the dispensation of justice can continue. However, all present were very much cognizant that it could not be business as usual, especially with the constant call for social distancing and self-isolation to ensure that there is no room for the spread of the virus.

CJ Benjamin explained that increased measures to ensure the cleanliness and sanitization of the court precincts had already commenced. As in almost all public institutions, the placement of hand sanitizer dispensers and the deployment of frequent cleaning of these premises, especially in high traffic areas, are in full effect, and of course, staff are constantly reminded of the need to continue practicing good hygiene.

However, directly affecting the dispensation of justice is the need to now take measures such as minimizing the number of persons allowed to be present at, and move around, the Court precincts (to the extent possible) and the posting of informational signs discouraging members of the public from moving through or congregating around the precincts of all courts unless their presence is required.

To assist in having less human traffic around the court rooms and before the judges, cases will be dealt with, where possible, via telephone/Skype and strictly on paper through written submissions where appropriate. Even bail applications will be conducted via video link, since a system had already been installed at the prison and is now linked to the courts. Divorce petitions shall continue to be heard on Friday, but in a larger courtroom to avoid congestion.

Truth is, only cases considered urgent will be dealt with, and those that are not too urgent will be postponed. Urgent cases usually include injunctions, constitutional case, habeas corpus cases and even judicial review cases, but these will be determined on a case by case basis. Important too is the new mode of electronic filing of court documents that will be adopted on or before 25th March 2020, cutting down on the need to visit the court office.

It was agreed that case management conferences in criminal matters will be suspended for the remainder of the current Court term. All jury trials are suspended until further notice, but there will be continuation of judge-alone criminal trials, but to avoid too much contact and congregating, witnesses in criminal cases will be staggered when making their court appearances.

Magistrate and Family courts — limited cases

The hearings at the Magistrate Court are likewise affected, and while arraignments will be carried out, regular hearings will only continue, if they do not involve multiple defendants. For those with traffic cases, it must be noted that all hearings for traffic offenses and the payment of traffic tickets will be suspended until further notice. However, to ensure the continued hearing of cases a procedure for pleas by post in traffic matters shall be implemented.

There is good news for those owing court fines, as a moratorium on the payment of fines as well as suspension of all committals until the 15th of April, 2020, are being instituted. Extensions for payments of fines are to be granted on request at the Magistrate Court.

A key decision is that the Family Court, which is on a daily basis a crowded space, will have all hearings suspended until 15th April and thereafter the court will continue to conduct cases, but will limit its caseload per-day. Urgent family matters, such as protection orders, occupations orders, child maintenance and custody will be heard and given priority.

There was an amendment to the Supreme Court of Judicature Act to allow for the Chief Justice to issue direction to implement the above measures. As I write, I am hearing that all civil matters in the Supreme Court are suspended from hearing as of 19th March 2020 until 25th March 2020 (inclusive), save for urgent matters and filing of court documents, which will continue as usual until the electronic system is implemented. As it stands the Court of Appeal session has been suspended until further notice.

The COVID-19 has forced changes in the judicial system, but it has not closed it down. The Saldivar virus has forced us to accept that we are a corrupt nation, but the UDP party leader convention has been postponed indefinitely. Two viruses affecting us, but I opine one is deadlier than the other, and one has shown casualties, and the other none yet!

 

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