Following on from his announcement in the press last week, Leader of the Opposition and of the People’s United Party (PUP) Francis Fonseca has filed a claim in the Supreme Court which asks the Court to declare unlawful Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s refusal to bring into force the sections of the Sixth Amendment Constitution Act that deal with implementing a thirteenth member of the Senate to represent non-governmental organizations. Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, who along with Senior Counsel Magali Marin-Young represents Fonseca, today outlined the claim at a press briefing hosted by the party.
” “He is seeking firstly, a declaration that the first defendant, meaning the Prime Minister, continued refusal and our failure to appoint a date to bring in to force section 7 and 9 of the Belize Constitution Sixth Amendment Act has frustrated the purpose of the sixth amendment and is a wrongful exercise of the discretion conferred upon him by section 23 of the sixth amendment and is therefore ultra varese and unlawful. Secondly, a declaration that the first defendant, meaning the Prime Minister, continued refusal and/or failure to appoint a date to bring into force section 7 and 9 of the sixth amendment is unreasonable, unfair, arbitrary and a breach of the separation of powers doctrine, and therefore unlawful. Thirdly, an order directing the Honorable Prime Minister to appoint a day bringing section 7 and 9 of the sixth amendment into force by making an order published in The Gazette within 30days from the date of this order.”
The Supreme Court had entertained a claim from several NGO’s including Belizeans for Justice and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) several years ago but dismissed it, saying it was a question for the National Assembly. Now, the PUP is jumping into the fray, but only after allowing time for civil society to consider trying again. According to Courtenay, the delay in instituting the claim is due to alleged attempts by Government to interfere.
“As the party leader has said, he welcomes any member of civil society or otherwise who wishes to join. All I will say to you is I am aware of specific attempts to undermine decisions taken by those in the civil society to bring a claim, and in fact, the party leader has waited this long because he prefers for civil society to bring the claim, but every time that decision was taken through the direct intervention of the government the decision was the suspended and put off for further meetings in order to frustrate the claim. And party leader has decided that he has waited long enough, he has brought it and anyone who wishes to join can join and I will come to join.”
In his remarks the claimant spoke of how the 13th Senator may have impacted recent attempts to find answers to allegations of Government corruption which the Senate is normally empowered to investigate, but which attempts to initiate such investigations were thwarted by the Government.
“The Belizean people should understand and be reminded that if there was a 13th senator, it is very clear that there would have been a senate special select committee to investigate the UDP Penner immigration scandal. The UDP used their majority in the senate to block this inquiry. Similarly the motion tabled by Senator Mark Lizzaraga representing the business community in November of 2014 which sought to have the UDP government provide an explanation and accounting of unauthorized expenditure of millions of PetreCarib funds was also blocked and thwarted by the UDP Senate majority. “
And Courtenay rubbished suggestions that no true change would result from a successful implementation of the 13th Senator.
“It is that type of cynicism, that type of thought process that this entire claim is designed to bring an end to. Julez, you should understand more than anybody that it is not about passing and approving the finance of the country, it is not about passing the budget in the National Assembly. It is about transparent spending of that money and accounting for it. What your government has done is to consistently spend millions of dollars of money that this country and the people of this country have to pay back without accounting for it.”
According to Fonseca civil society organizations are welcome to join the case as interested parties. No timeline has been set for hearing but Fonseca hopes that with elections looming the question will be dealt with sooner rather than later. The party plans to release other proposals for reform at a later date.