June  2003
The Belize Constitution Threatened

by Godsman Ellis, spokesperson for rights of civil society

At the last sitting of the House a Bill which would give Fortis, a private company, the absolute right to construct the Chalillo Water Facility, went through three readings in one sitting. This Bill, according to a Channel 5 newscast, "attempts to place Chalillo beyond the reach of the constitution. Section 4 (d) reads: "For the avoidance of doubt and for greater certainty, BECOL shall proceed with the design, financing, construction and operation for the Chalillo Project in accordance with paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) of this section notwithstanding any judgement, order or declaration of any court or tribunal, whether heretofore or hereafter granted, issued or made." Clearly, a law which places any person or activity beyond the reach of the system of justice is incompatible with the notion of constitutional rule." The Opposition in the House did not support the Bill mainly on constitutional grounds.

The Senate met on this Bill and were split to the extent that the Chair had to exercise his casting vote. All Government appointed Senators supported the Bill.

The Bill now goes to the Governor General for signage into law. Unless the GG signs, the Bill will not become law.

It is clear that this Bill, if passed, will be setting a serious precedent in our courts in that lawyers will be able to use it as reference in their argument for upholding an unconstitutional act. This Bill was introduced in favour of a private company, which is a profit oriented entity. I am not aware of any such law in Belize which “puts people first” over private entities to such extent in the defence of their rights. This Bill is making a mockery of our courts in perpetuity. The judgement of the Appeals Court and even the Privy Council or the Caribbean Court of Appeal when established, may now go unheeded according to this Bill.

Whether we want to admit it or not, the system has put the integrity of Government appointees to decision making bodies at risk. Appointees have been instructed by those who appoint (CEO’s, Political bosses) them, what side to support and on how to vote on issues. Integrity, standing up for what one believes in is a rhetorical stance in specific scenarios. We see this happening in the Senate, the House and in such bodies as NEAC.

This state of affairs will be with us as long as we fail to address root causes. When the majority members on a decision making body affecting the lives of people (the stakeholders) is Government appointed, guided democracy is bound to come into play. When civil society remains only a buzz word and a fancy term on public documents in the halls of power our tomorrow will be like our today and our yesterday.

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