Wednesday, September 30th, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: The Supreme Court has postponed one case and discontinued another as a result of the announcement of general elections in November.
Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman confirmed in speaking with us via telephone this morning that the case of PUP Cayo Northeast standard bearer Orlando Habet versus the Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai, is to be discontinued with no order made for costs.
She explained that events have now overtaken the case, making the exercise now academic. Former representative Elvin Penner is no longer a member of the House of Representatives and was disqualified from standing for election for the United Democratic Party.
Habet and two of his constituents had hoped to convince Supreme Court Justice Courtney Abel to review – and possibly overturn – the decision of Chief Elections Officer Tamai to reject hundreds of signatures collected for the recall of Elvin Penner in 2013, for varying reasons.
Residents of the division, rallied by the PUP, signed the petition in a bid to trigger a recall of Penner for alleged wrongdoing in the issuance of a Belize passport to South Korean businessman Wong Hong Kim while he was in a prison in Taiwan.
A total of 337 signatures were rejected, causing the petition to fall short of the threshold for recall by 79.
However, the petitioners contended that there were instances where individuals who signed the petition and were rejected because they were not on the official voters’ list have been found to in fact be there; and additionally, persons whose signatures were said not to match the official record, or who signed more than once, should not be disenfranchised as the law is not hard and fast on the issue.
A recall petition can only be laid once per division in each electoral cycle. The threshold to force recall is 65% of the electorate and a simple majority.
Anthony Sylvestre and Senior Counsel Michel Chebat appeared along with Senior Counsel Shoman, and Nigel Hawke, deputy solicitor general, appeared for CEO Tamai and the Attorney General.
The other case was to have featured preliminary arguments pitting the country’s Leader of the Opposition, Francis Fonseca, against Prime Minister Dean Barrow over the issue of the appointment of a thirteenth member of the Senate, before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, but it was postponed until November 30 for report.
The UDP had presented amendments to the Constitution to bring in a 13th Senator representing non-governmental organizations as part of its 2008 manifesto. But in 2010 the Prime Minister had a sudden turnaround and has declined to implement Sections 7 and 9 of the Constitutional amendment, citing fears of gridlock affecting Government programs.
The NGO’s Belizeans for Justice and Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) filed a case trying to force the implementation but fell short in arguments before former Acting Chief Justice Samuel Awich in 2011. The issue then lay dormant for several years even as the Prime Minister insisted he would not act to bring the amendments into force and said he regretted suggesting them.
In May, Fonseca and attorney Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay formally announced litigation to force P.M. Barrow’s hand, citing the lapse of a date at which all provisions of the law including Sections 7 and 9 would be brought into force.
The delay in instituting the claim, they said, is due to alleged attempts by Government to interfere; as soon as various civil society organizations had decided to take up the matter, the Government would convince their leaders to postpone the decision.
Fonseca said that a 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.
Examples include a special Senate Select Committee to investigate the actions of Elvin Penner in the Won Hong Kim affair and associated visa and immigration irregularities, and plans to look into the spending of Petrocaribe funds.
P.M. Barrow, for his part, says he has tried to negotiate with the social partners to create the conditions that would help the legislation become reality. He had spoken to both the Council of Churches, which already has a representative, and the Chamber of Commerce likewise in the Senate, but there had been no response and so he put the issue on the backburner.
A victory for the PUP in the case would be resisted, says Barrow, because the law is theoretically on his side. He would appeal a decision otherwise but says he wants to see how the court rules before commenting further.
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