Eighteen men and three women will serve in the new Cabinet of Prime Minister Dean Barrow; they were sworn in this afternoon in Belmopan and will meet tomorrow morning at ten in Belmopan. Among them are two surprise victors in the Belize District and the first woman Attorney General of Belize, along with the many veterans of two previous Cabinets and a Senator who has become a Government troubleshooter in his time in the administration. The Prime Minister continues as Minister of Finance but adds the Public Service, including Elections and Boundaries, and Energy and Public Utilities to his portfolio. The man with direct responsibility for those latter two Ministries is Minister of State Frank “Pawpa” Mena of Dangriga. Barrow has dropped Economic Development to Cayo West representative Erwin Contreras, who also adds a Petroleum portfolio and keeps Investment, Trade and Commerce. He also gains a Minister of State for the latter three portfolios, Tracey Taegar-Panton. The other major change is at the Ministry of Natural Resources, where longstanding Minister Gaspar Vega ceded control to Senator Godwin Hulse, who returns minus all of his previous portfolios except for Immigration, where Minister of State Beverly Castillo, a former CEO in Natural Resources, was chosen to head Immigration instead.Vega keeps Agriculture and adds Forestry and Fisheries, Environment and Sustainable Development, all from ex-Minister and Senator Lisel Alamilla.Dr. Omar Figueroa assumes control of the latter two Ministries. The sole junior Minister to be promoted to full Minister is Hugo Patt of Corozal North, who was appointed Minister of Labour, Local Government and Rural Development. Hon. Edmond Castro, beset by multiple scandals in his seven years in Government but a rock in Belize Rural North for the party, adds national emergency management to his Transport portfolio but remains junior to Minister of Works Rene Montero. Vanessa Retreage makes history as Belize’s first woman Attorney General, replacing Wilfred Elrington. Among the returning Ministers, Patrick Faber takes Culture from Manuel Heredia Jr.; his new Minister of State is Elodio Aragon, Jr. who holds responsibility for the latter three Ministries. All other Ministries remain the same including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, once again headed by Wilfred Elrington, except that Minister of Health Pablo Marin is joined by Corozal Southwest representative Dr. Angel Campos as Minister of State, who assumes charge of National Health Insurance and Primary Health Care. Should the newer elected representatives have been given better choice of Ministries than the old gang? The Prime Minister doesn’t think so.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Belize’s Prime Minister: I think we’re off to an excellent start. Indeed the question of seniority in fact, was one of the foremost considerations, but in order to be sure that the newly elected members of the house, the new entrants into the cabinet could play a dramatic role and contribute to a sense of renewal. And in fact ensure that as a practical matter there is a refresh, we’ve done what we’ve done. We’re prevented by the constitution in the circumstances for making any of them full ministers, but you will see that every single one has a key set of responsibilities and so we think that ultimately results in a good fit, in a new paradigm that will allow us to take this country forward.
The Prime Minister has stated that the seven Ministers of State will have the same responsibilities as the Ministers they are junior to in their appointed portfolios, and says this has worked well in his previous administration. But what is their legal authority? Barrow explains that.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Belize’s Prime Minister: While I concede to what you urge, with respect to where the formal legal authority has to continue to reside. We’ve already seen this equation that we’re putting forward, although to a greater extent now. But we’ve already seen it work in our last administration. I point in particular to The Ministry of Education, which has now had Culture added to it but which when it was the Ministry of Education Youth and Sports saw Herman Longsworth operate with complete sway over Youth and Sport. We’ve already seen in the Ministry of Works and Transport as it then was, the Hon. Edmund Castro operate with complete sway over Transport. And so we are absolutely confident that the same thing will happen now on a grander scale. The question of who is able to sign statutory instruments is a nice one and it may will be in fact statutory instruments can only be signed by full ministers, and not ministers of state. If that is the case, it won’t be a problem because we require in any case that all statutory instruments before they’re signed period, by anybody comes to cabinet. And so if a minister of state brings a statutory instrument to cabinet and it is approved, then if only the substantive minster can sign, the substantive minister will sign on the direction of the government.
On the matter of Statutory Instruments, Barrow explained that while it may be legal for only Ministers to sign, they should not rock the boat and he doesn’t expect them to do so. As for the re-appointment of Senator Hulse, described as “the lockdown Minister” for trying to remove political hustling from the Ministries which he has headed, P.M. Barrow describes him as someone who likes to put in workable systems.
Hon. Dean Barrow, Belize’s Prime Minister: I know Godwin Hulse to be somebody who is very big on systems, whose very big on organization, who, because of his engineer mind, will always want to restructure and try to configure things differently, and that is fine. I don’t know him to be somebody who is simply, as you say, put things in some sort of lockdown. He’s far too intelligent. He’s far too clever. He’s far too enlightened for that to happen, so I have absolutely no doubt that the lands department, although there may be sort of reorganization, some sort of refresh, will continue to operate in a way that will see it serve the public and serve the business community, and serve the economy.