If Belizeans were hoping for a replay of the fiery and furious Budget Debate when the House of Representatives met today, then for sure they were disappointed. The meeting which lasted a little over two hours was minus the fireworks and mudslinging we’ve come to expect, but it was a significant event where some very important legislation was passed.
In all 5 bills were introduced and two were presented for a second reading. Of the bills introduced, one which didn’t attract much fanfare today but which is sure to generate heated debate in the near future is the bill to amend the Belize Constitution, chapter 4 of the laws of Belize to provide for the preventive detention of persons associated with criminal activities. According to the Prime Minister, because it is a move to amend the constitution there will need to be consultation, but in the end they plan to push it through regardless.
Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
“There must be the country wide consultation; there must be a ninety day waiting period. We will provide a draft of the implementing legislation in the event we succeed in changing the constitution; the law that will actually implement the provisions provide the detail provisions for how the preventative detention regime will work. We will circulate that; we will give it to the social partners and of course to the wider public so that when the Foreign Affairs and Constitutional Committee of the House is engaging the public, the public will have that draft legislation on which to comment and in relation to which they could make as I suggest their suggestions nobody is going to stand on this side of the house and suggest that the draft we provide is going to be perfect, we are hoping that that draft will in fact be improve as a consequence of the debate, but what we want to signal is that once we have the number on this side we will pass the constitutional amendment.”
And then there were the bills to amend the Indictable Procedure Act and the Juries Act to provide for a trial without a jury.
Hon. Dean Barrow – Prime Minister
“Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce a bill for an act to amend the jury act chapter 128 of the laws of Belize revised edition 2000, 2003 to provide for trial without a jury in certain criminal cases and to provide with matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. Now, Mr. Speaker this Bill provides, as this is not a constitutional amendment this is a straight regular piece of statute law and this is a Bill that provides for trial without a jury in certain criminal cases in the Supreme Court. Class three adds five new sections to the principal act, section 65-A through to section 65-E. Section 65-A provides that the trials for the offences of murder, attempt to murder, abetment of murder or conspiracy to commit murder shall be held without a jury. In these cases there is no discretion given to the judge, trial without a jury will be mandatory. Section 65-B, provides that in any other criminal case, that is trial on enticement before the Supreme Court the prosecution may apply to the court for the trial to be conducted without a jury on any of the grounds listed in sub section two of that section, those grounds include, the danger of jury tampering or the intimation of jurors or witnesses a criminal gang element or the complexity or length of the trial. An accused person may also apply to the judge for a trail without a jury on the ground that in view of the pre-trial publicity attracted by the case he is unlikely to have a fair trial with a jury.”
Like we said, today was an in and out deal. After the second reading of a bill to amend the Belize Trade and Investment Service Act to provide for an executive Chairman and a Director of Administration for Beltraide, the House met in Committee and shortly after the sitting was adjourned. We spoke to Leader of the Opposition Hon. John Briceno as he exited the House.
Hon. John Briceno – Leader of the Opposition
“To allow Mr. Mike Sing to get in as the Executive Chairman he has failed at B.T.B and now they are trying to find a place to put him so they made some structural changes within the bill to allow for that to happen. As to the other one was the issue of the bullet prove vest in there hast as usual the prime minister is trying to say that he wants to fight crime, he made an amendment in June of 2008 that outlaw the use of the bullet proof vest and in his haste he also included even the customs department, immigration everyone that is was illegal for them to use and own a bullet proof vest so, this around what he did was to amend the parent act to allow now for them and also for the citizens of Belize to be able to own a vest provided that they get a permission from the commissioner of police. The concern that I raised there was that on the present parent act if you are caught with a bullet proof vest you are going to spent three to seven years in jail, with the present amendment what is going to happen is that if you are found in possession with one of those which was not registered they are only going to be charging you five hundred dollars, so there is this huge discrepancies and there are a number of people that am told that have already been charged with having a vest so these people can look to spent three to seven years in jail when if it is to happen now all they would have to do is pay a five hundred dollars fine so I think that I something I alerted the government to see if there is anything they can do they claim that there is anything they can do about it.”
Briceno also had some choice words for the government on the issue of unemployment. After the results of the recent national census were presented, it was revealed that unemployment had risen to an astonishing 23.1%. Acting Minister of Economic Development John Saldivar spoke on the issue in the House and admitted that the figure was factual, but didn’t seem too concerned.
Hon. John Briceno – Leader of the Opposition
“I think what is interesting to note is that he did not deny that the unemployment rate is at 23% and tried to fund a way on how to spin it. Mr. Saldivar like the rest of his government doesn’t live the reality of Belizeans across this country because wherever you go in every constituency everyone is telling you that they cannot find a job. The sad reality is that at least 23% of Belizean are unable to find a job. In the areas such as South Side in Belize City between the young people and women it is as much as 50% and that is something that is certainly unacceptable in our party, it is something that the government should have taken a close look as something as a crisis taking place in front of us that this high unemployment rate has a direct impact on the social ills that we are facing And yet all the government can do is come to the house and introduce more laws in trying to suppress and oppress the Belizean people.”
The last time the issue of preventive detention was introduced by the Government, the immediate and very spirited outcry forced the Prime Minister to back down. Since he has stated that if he has the numbers on the UDP side of the House they will push through the constitutional amendment anyway, we’re not too sure what purpose nationwide consultations would serve at this time.