Photo: Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, Leader of the Opposition
BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 22, 2023
On Friday, November 24, Chief Magistrate Jayani Wegodapola will hand down an order indicating whether or not the Opposition Leader, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, will be struck off the register of voters in the Mesopotamia Division in Belize City. Two voters from the said electoral division, namely Gary Ayuso and Dorla Vaughan, filed an objection to Barrow’s voter registration, arguing that he never resided and does not reside at the three-room cement bungalow located at 80 King Street in the division for which he was elected as area representative in November 2020. The two objectors are a former standard bearer for the ruling People’s United Party and the chairperson of the PUP’s Mesopotamia constituency committee, respectively.
Barrow registered in Mesopotamia in July 2023 during the annual transfer-of-electors period, after which the same objectors filed a first challenge to Barrow’s voter registration. However, on August 30 when the matter went before the Chief Magistrate as the revising officer for the Belize District, they did not show up. Attorney Richard “Dickie” Bradley, who is representing Barrow in the matter before the court, has since explained that, because the matter was not dismissed or thrown out on its merits, meaning the arguments were not heard in court, the matter fell by the wayside. The Representation of the People Act (ROA) states at Section 26 (4) that if an objector does not appear to support his objection, “the objection shall be overruled and the name retained on the register or list, as the case may be.”
According to Bradley, the matter now before the court is based on a new application filed by the same objectors now that the voters list has come up for annual revision, which allows for anyone else on the voters list for a respective division or a registering officer to file objections. Attorney Orson “OJ” Elrington today shared a differing view, which is that the matter is not properly before the court because it is functus, that is, it has already been decided, and therefore the Chief Magistrate cannot re-examine the same matter twice. Elrington reported that when he appeared in court at his earliest convenience, he raised these procedural issues. He then indicated that the Chief Magistrate made a ruling that she would proceed with the matter. He added though, “If there is any decision which is ultra vires what we believe is right and proper, then we have the avenue to pursue that.”
Given that the matter proceeded, the objections were heard in open court for determination by the deadline of November 25 each year. On Tuesday, November 21, closing arguments followed the testimony of two witnesses who appeared in support of Barrow. They were Stacey Williams, a food vendor, and Barrow’s driver, Allan “AK” Kelly, who both are members of Barrow’s constituency committee. Williams testified that she lives opposite to 80 King Street, and though the building is completely dark in the nighttime, she said she often sees Barrow dropped off by Kelly at the location at night. Both claimed that Barrow’s wife and their daughter have also stayed at the location.
In closing, attorney Leeroy Banner, who represents the People’s United Party’s objectors, reminded the court that their witness, Mace Bearer, Henry Mortis had taken photos purporting to show Barrow on the veranda of a home on St. Charles Street, and that a previous vehicle belonging to Barrow was seen parked at the same location. The objectors testified that they have lived in the area for years, and 80 King Street only houses an office and resource center. Banner highlighted that even the elector’s witnesses referred to the locale mainly as an office – and that they added, almost as an afterthought, that Barrow has a room there. He affirmed that Kelly admitted during his cross-examination that when the Chief Magistrate asked to visit the location, they tried to hurriedly “prepare” by strewing a mattress and pillows on the floor. That room, they observed, was adjacent to the bathroom, where there was water on the floor due to a leak. Banner argued that the Magistrate could have observed for herself that the building is not retrofitted as a residence whatsoever, and that Barrow does not even have his clothes there; to which Kelly responded that the clothes had been taken to the laundromat.
Bradley, for his part, called it a “UDP and PUP thing” and exclaimed that they were wasting the Court’s time because their sole purpose was to target Barrow. He argued that all the evidence of the objectors and their claims that the location is unsuitable for anyone to spend nights there is not relevant. He proclaimed that what matters is what is required under the law, and as per the ROPA, what is required is that a person reside in a division for not less than two months prior to their application to be added on the voters list. He clarified that it is not necessary to live in a division to represent it, but that Barrow, like former Prime Minister George Price, wants to live in the constituency he represents. He then outlined that the objectors failed to present evidence specifically relating to the two-month period when the registering officer from the Elections and Boundaries Department (EBD) would have done their due diligence and made checks to determine if Barrow met the registration requirements under the law. He said the photos presented were taken this month and not before July. Besides, said Bradley, there is no law that requires one to “hang around” and be at the location after the registration requirement has been met. He used the example of Belizeans in the diaspora, who, after having registered, return to the United States.
According to the law, if a name is struck from the voters list, an appellant may file a notice of appeal no later than 48 hours after the decision is given.
Attorney Bradley has said that the effect of Barrow being struck from the list would be that he would have to resign from the House of Representatives. However, Elrington’s interpretation of the procedures is that it is the actions of the registering officer from the EBD that are under review in court, rather than those of Barrow. Bradley, on the other hand, remarked that if the Chief Magistrate rules that Barrow’s name must be struck from the voters list because he does not live at the address cited, then he would be guilty of an election offence. The police would then be required to bring a charge against Barrow, and if found guilty, then he would have to resign. The Constitution at Section 58 (1) (f) states that someone is disqualified from membership in the House of Representatives “by virtue of any law by reason of his having been convicted of any offence relating to elections.” However, as was already pointed out, the elector whose registration is objected to has the right to appeal the decision of the revising officer. Bradley questioned why the objectors, who say 12 persons are registered at 80 King Street, are only objecting to the registration of Barrow, who is the Leader of the Opposition.
Prime Minister John Briceño, when asked about the case today, made a comment that raised concerns, given that the matter is still before the Court. He stated, “Everybody knows where he lives. Everybody knows that he lives by the Perdomo’s … so I think it is the right of the people of Mesopotamia to object, for him to, it seems, give wrong information about where he’s residing.”