[caption id="attachment_9189" align="alignleft" width="186" caption="Senator Lisa Shoman"][/caption]
[caption id="attachment_9190" align="alignleft" width="186" caption="Jacqueline Marshalleck "][/caption]
Chamber, Bar, Senators, Activists and even Hubert Elrington say Barrow is “heading the wrong road”
Belize City, August 3, 2011
There is mounting opposition to the Government’s proposal for a 9th amendment to the Constitution that seeks to remove the authority of the Courts to review and challenge constitutional amendments, and place supremacy and rule on the legislature.
The latest group to express its disapproval and displeasure is the Belize Chamber of Commerce who sent out a release on Wednesday afternoon declaring that the 9th amendment creates a “dangerous situation”
and that they are calling on the Government to “withdraw the Bill”.
“If enacted, the proposed Ninth Amendment to Belize’s Constitution creates a very dangerous situation, which is not contemplated by our Constitution. It allows the Legislature to have absolute power to amend the Constitution…. In effect, we move from a Constitutional Supremacy where the laws passed by the Legislature must conform to the Constitution, to Parliamentary Supremacy where the Parliament is supreme and can pass any law without reference to our Constitution,”
stated the Chamber’s release.
Allowing Parliament to bestow on itself such absolute rule opens the doors to possible abuse, viewed the Chamber, and that could result in the removal of citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms without being able to challenge them in the Courts.
The Chamber warned that the suggestion was not a fear tactic, and pointed out that it is this very same Barrow Administration who “proposed drastic changes to our personal liberties”
through Preventative Detention and the 8th Constitutional Amendment. While it has been withdrawn the “8th Amendment can be reintroduced, and we would be unable to challenge its substance in the courts,”
admonished the Chamber’s release.
The Belize Chamber of Commerce is the most recent in a string of organisations, well-known activists and political heavy-weights from both sides of party politics to declare their opposition to Government’s 9th constitutional amendment.
Last week Wednesday, the Bar Association declared their objection. So did a bevy of attorneys and even former Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Said Musa. On Saturday, the Coalition for Liberty through Action, Belizeans for Justice, the Maya Leader’s Alliance and Opposition members marched against the 9th Amendment through the streets of Belize City. Well-known advocate Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who is a former UDP Senator and editor of the UDP newspapers, and attorney and Human Rights official Antoinette-Moore have come out swinging against the proposed amendment.
Current Senators Lisa Shoman, Godwin Hulse and Henry Gordon have also declared their staunch objection. No one was more clear about the reasons against the amendment that Senators Shoman and Gordon and Bar Association President Jacqueline Marshalleck when they participated in a debate of the issue on a Love FM exclusive on Monday night.
The proponents of the amendment were former Attorney General Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington and his newly hired Solicitor General Jamaican-born Cheryl Krusen.
While the best rationale Elrington and Krusen were able to muster was that in their view the Constitution already gives the National Assembly supremacy, and the 9th Amendment only made it “double sure”; they were hit with blow after blow that exposed that the amendment is a far-reaching abomination to democracy, or in the words of Senator Gordon it created, “the potential for a dictatorship”.
Senator Shoman and Marshalleck who articulated the important role the Courts play in a constitutional democracy said what the 9th Amendment proposed to do was to remove the basic tenets of our Constitution. Marshalleck said that in simple terms the Barrow Administration sought to “strip the judiciary”.
Elrington did not shy away from the accusation. He even went further to state that indeed the Parliament had such power, and even more. “This gives the Parliament the power to revoke the Constitution,”
Elrington said the Government’s position is that all the Courts could do was review the procedure by which a constitutional amendment or law is introduced, but that it could not review the content. He said the 9th amendment sought to make that position explicit.
The debate was aired live on radio and television and was popular online as it reportedly attracted 13,000 internet viewers. When the opportunity was given for callers to question the panellists, even those participants rejected the Government’s proposal in fear that their fundamental rights and freedoms were in danger.
Belizeans will have an opportunity to have their say on the 9th Constitutional Amendment when a public consultation is held on Wednesday, August 10th, 2011 at 7 p.m. at the Holy Redeemer Parish Hall in Belize City. Consultations will also be held at different venues across the country.
The Prime Minister and his political hacks, however, have the propensity of turning serious forums of discourse into political rallies which could become a serious deterrent to public participation. So far, there has been no commitment from the Prime Minister that he will keep away the hooligans and thugs who will likely harass and intimidate the common man who may want to attend and defend his rights.