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Where’s the people’s representation?

HeadlineWhere’s the people’s representation?

The draft shows a list of 21 entities proposed to have representation on the commission, but missing from this list are a number of bodies that are believed to be truly representative of the people of Belize, some observers say.

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. July 21, 2022 
The Briceño administration promised that the People’s Constitutional Commission would be one that has wide-reaching representation from an array of interest groups and stakeholders that will together play a role in the forging of a new, modern constitution for Belize. However, the draft legislation for the establishment of the commission, read for the first time in the House of Representatives last Friday, was made available online, and already shows some glaring shortfalls as it relates to the bodies and organizations representing the people of Belize within the process. Public sentiments are that the list of 21 in the People’s Constitutional Commission Bill 2022 already excludes key members of the society—disenfranchising them in the process. 


Of note, the 2 ruling political parties are allowed to choose 2 members and two alternates each to sit on the commission. The other 19 organizations, including the third parties, will be able to select 1 member and 1 alternate to sit on the commission. There will be representatives from the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Belize Business Bureau—thus affording the business community representation, as well as a member from the Belize Network of NGOs. The Belize Agro-Productive Sector Group and Medical and Dental Association will also have representation.


The three major unions within the country—the NTUCB, PSU, and BNTU—will also have representatives on the commission, and the National Association of Village Councils, Bar Association, University of Belize, and Belize Council of Churches will be represented as well – although, notably, no other faith-based organization has been invited to select a representative to sit on the commission besides the Christian churches. 


Only two ethnic groups from Belize will have representation on the commission—the National Garifuna Council and the National Maya Council. Of note, there are national councils for both Creoles and the East Indian people living in Belize which are not represented on the commission. Also, the thousands of Belizeans living in the diaspora, many with strong ties to the country, also have no representation on the commission.


Back in March of this year, the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) wrote a letter to the Minister of Constitutional and Political Reform, Hon. Henry Charles Usher, emphasizing the importance of representation of Belizeans of African descent on the commission.

  
A portion of the letter, to which there has so far been no response, states, “As a group, people of Afrikan ancestry and heritage in Belize have been impacted negatively by a number of national policies that we did not contribute to prior to decisions being made that harmed Afrikan Belizeans disproportionately. Accordingly, UEF is adamant that we must have these 2 Afrikan Belizean community representatives who are trusted by Afrikan Belizeans to advocate in our best interest, and have a record of independent thinking and actions on the Belize Constitutional Reform Commission.


At the time it was suggested that Bilal Morris of BREDAA represent Afro-Belizeans living in the diaspora, and YaYa Marin Coleman, the chairperson of UEF, represent the communities with African heritage in Belize. 


The UEF March 2022 letter stated, “There is a need for Substantive Afrikan Representation in order to redress and counter the civil and social death of us as Afrikans in Belize. Civil death is a United Nations (UN) term used internationally; it can be interpreted to mean that one does not exist with political recognition as belonging to a people.

Furthermore, that unless there is recognition of Afrikan group status and peoplehood, we are not able to access or secure collective human rights, except those rights that are given or granted us. This means that we are in existence, but we are not recognized politically as an Afrikan people in the States in which we live. The notion of Belizean statehood was based on the extinction of Afrikan personhood, since we as an Afrikan people have no recognised geo-political identity in Belize, or indeed the world, and despite the fact that Belize has the highest percentage of persons of Afrikan ancestry and heritage of any Central American nation, we as the children of the kidnapped Afrikan people are in effect still rendered a stateless people.” 


As mentioned, there has been no reply to UEF. A UEF Facebook post dated July 13 states, “UEF copied this March 14, 2022, re: Belize Constitutional Reform Commission Composition & Mandate to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister & the Cabinet Secretary. Today July 13, 2022, almost 4 months later, no one has responded to Breddah Bilal Morris of Belize Rural Economic Development for Agriculture through Alliance and Sista YaYa Marin Coleman, UEF’s chairperson. “


It must be noted that the list of organizations to be represented on the commission does not include any entity representing senior citizens, youths of the country, or those with special needs and different abilities. 


On Monday, July 25, a committee meeting is scheduled to discuss the new People’s Constitutional Commission Bill 2022, starting at 10:15 in the Committee Room in the National Assembly building. Any persons wishing to give views and recommendations are invited to do so in person or by writing a letter to the Clerk of the National Assembly before the end of business tomorrow, Friday, July 22.

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