Dismantling Our Constitution
Thursday, April 7, 2011, 1:08
By anthony sylvestre
Four years after Belize became an independent country with its own constitution, and less than a year after it was elected to the national government for the first time in its political party’s history (and with a super majority at that), the UDP started the dismantling of the Constitution of Belize.
It was the 1st of November, 1985 when then Governor General Dame Minita Gordon assented to Act No. 14 of 1985, the Belize Constitution (First Amendment) Act.
The first amendment to the Constitution of Belize by the UDP paved the way for the notorious bucket sale of Belizean passports to foreigners who had never set foot in Belize, were never required to set foot in Belize, but simply required to “give we, wah lee money.”
Dean Barrow, our present Prime Minister, back in 1985, was a prominent Minister in that UDP Cabinet. He was in also in charge of the drafting of laws as the Attorney General.
The constitution was amended for the sole purpose of generating monies for the bankrupt UDP government. Bankrupt with ideas back then as it is today, the UDP deliberately started tampering with this sacred document which in legal circles is referred to as the legal bible. Equally important, that first constitutional amendment started the bastardisation of the Belizean identity- to be a Belizean from henceforth had no fixed mooring (to use one of Dean Barrow’s favourite words). To repeat, once yuh cudda mi give the government wah lee money, you cudda become wah Belizean.
Like the Holy Bible, the constitution is a document which sets out the principles that govern Belizean actions (whether individually or institutionally); that guides how citizens’ actions are to be regulated, conducted and done. Indeed the first words of our Constitution states you how much reliance is placed on God:
“… the people of Belize-
(a) Affirm that the Nation of Belize shall be founded upon principles which acknowledge the supremacy of God, faith in human rights and fundamental freedoms, the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions, the dignity of the human person and the equal and inalienable rights which all members of the human family are endowed by their Creator.”
The constitution sets out the extent of the rights and powers of the citizens of Belize, as well as the organs of the state- that Executive (the Prime Minister and Cabinet), the Legislature (those men who debate and oftentimes ‘go an bad’ in the House of Representatives and Senate) and the Judiciary (the judges, magistrates and other judicial officers).
Now, just as how a person of faith should be terrified, furious, sickened to the point of her head spinning- at the thought of her church pastor or father destroying and bastardising the Holy Bible, so too should all Belizeans be terrified and sickened by the way Dean Barrow and this UDP is proposing to destroy our Constitution.
Now it will be said, wait a minute, give him a chance; that’s not fair. But the evidence is there for all to see that the constitutional amendments that the UDP has passed in the past have had the debilitating effect on the national consciousness and psyche. Rather than improving on the regulating of citizen’s action, it has had a conversely debilitating effect.
For instance, it isn’t any secret what grave damage to our country’s dignity and respect internationally that the dubious economic citizen program has caused which is a direct consequence of that first constitutional amendment passed by Barrow and the UDP back in 1985.
Then in 1988, Barrow and his UDP amended the Constitution of Belize for a second time- again for a dubious purpose. This constitutional amendment, Act No. 26 of 1988, gave the constitutional stamp of approval for the wretched and notorious SIS regime. Those of us old enough to recall, will remember that the SIS was a security agency that was formed by the UDP (very much like today’s Gang Suppression Unit). SIS was formed, the UDP said, for the “protection of Belize and its people from espionage, sabotage, subversion, active measures of foreign intervention and terrorism.”
But those of us old enough to remember know better. The SIS had nothing to do with protecting Belize and its people, but was a covert outfit designed to consolidate the UDP power. So, the SIS unleashed a fury of intimidation, bullying tactics, threats and bodily harm and spying on PUP officials and members.
Barrow and the UDP molested our constitution, just for that purpose. Happily, the PUP, as one of their first acts when they got into power, dis-banned that rogue security agency.
Now, we fast forward to 2011 to again some horrific proposals that the UDP is hell bent on enacting by way of further destroying our constitution. Now, Dean Barrow is the top man so he can’t side step responsibility as he did back then when he put all the blame on Manuel Esquivel.
I’m talking here about the proposal to change the constitution for preventative detention. Barrow and the UDP may say that we have not seen their proposal for the preventative detention so we cannot criticize it.
Well, the truth is Barrow had already proposed this preventative detention back in April, 2008, but public outcry caused him to back off. He said that it was mostly outcry from the PUP, but that is far from the truth- there was national public outcry, as there seems to building again.
What is preventative detention?
Simply put, preventative detention means locking up someone without charging them. Our constitution presently gives the police the power to lock up a citizen for 48 hours without charging them. The police, however, must have some reasonable suspicion that the citizen committed a crime or was about to commit a crime. We all know that sometimes the police lock-up citizens for 48 hours without any reasonable cause to do so. When the police do this, citizens can sue for breach of his or her constitutional right to liberty. But many who are victims of this abusive practice of the police do not have the means to pursue a case in the courts.
Barrow and the UDP wants to extend that period in police lock-up from 48 hours (2 days) to seven (7) days, in the first instance, with a possibility of it being extended to up to 90 days.
Is that reason for concern?
Yes. There is reason for concern here as it is a known fact that a police officer can pick up a citizen and lock him up and merely say, I have reasonable suspicion that you may want to commit a crime.
What is the further danger is that such a constitutional amendment cannot be undone unless and until another government is formed that has a super-majority; that is, a three fourth’s majority.
By way of example again, the first two constitutional amendments made by the UDP in 1985 (economic citizenship) and 1988 (SIS) respectively were not undone (in legal terms repealed) until the PUP came back to power in 1998. This is so even though the PUP was in government between 1989 and 1993 because they did not have the supermajority required and therefore could not repeal those first two constitutional amendments. In repealing those two dubious constitutional amendments in 2001, the PUP also reduced the period of time for which the Police could lock up a citizen without charging him: it was reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours. The UDP, with preventative detention, is now reversing that.
Given this present government’s arrogant and dictatorial conduct with their supermajority and public’s present mood of politicians and politics, it is very doubtful that the electorate will give to any political party in the near future a supermajority. Therefore, it is quite possible that we will be living in a Belize with this draconian preventative detention for a very long time. This makes it even more important that the UDP are not allowed to enact it.
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