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Governor General’s Proclamation: NOT IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST?

Posted: Sunday, August 6, 2017. 10:46 a.m. CST.

By Godwin B. Sutherland Sr.: Does the Governor General bear any obligation, moral or legal, to act in the public interest, in relation to the exercise of his duties as GG? This is perhaps one of the most pertinent questions, which have arisen with respect to the recent proclamation signed by the Governor General. Does His Excellency the GG have any obligation to exercise, due diligence in the exercise of his obligations? Can there be an occasion where the GG actions can be construed as not being in the public interest? These are but a few of the questions spawned by the GG’s signing of the proclamation, of July 30th 2017.The relevance of this line of questioning lies in the fact that governments continue to rely on archaic legal provisions that allows for the signing of SI’s, to impose their will on the populace. This practice is to be decried, in such instances when a government uses the provision with the sole intent to impose its will on the populace, despite of the level of opposition.  The GOB is not immune from this practice of signing Statutory Instruments into law. Whereas, the practice, in and of itself, is not necessarily illegal, however; in instances where SI’s has been used in a manner that quells democratic decent, silence opposition, is in conflict with human rights or used as an instrument to further the Governments political agenda among others, then it behooves us to speak out and to vigorously challenge such actions.

In the two example of SI sighted below, an argument may well be advanced that, the GOB can use statutory instruments to impose their will on the Belizean people, despite their opposition. Clearly Belizeans would be in order to find such an action to be fiercely despicable and one that spells danger for the fostering of a free, open and democratic Belize society. This state of affair feels exponentially more offensive, when this behavior is foisted on the Belizean people by provisions that results in the Head of State having to impose a proclamation that effectively legitimize the deferral  for a further year of an electoral list that is known to be contaminated and in need of review for some twenty years.

Belizeans will recall that on 2 May 2016 the Government passed Statutory Instrument 42 of 2016 Public Safety (Prescribed Area) (Movement) (Restriction), as a preemptive measure with the justification to “avoid the possibility of any Belizeans going to the Sarstoon and to allow an opportunity for Belizean diplomacy to work”.  Since then, public discourse on and off social media have revolved around trying to understand in whose interest is the Government of Belize acting. A significant factor influencing the mounting concerns of Belizean, bordering on mistrust, may well be the fact that GOB flaunts, and seemingly recklessly so, the fact that it can drive it’s  diplomatic and political agenda, less on consensus and more on the reliance on  archaic provisions, which exists in our Westminster system of Government , laws and provisions.

But if there is such a deliberate policy position  to use SI’s as an arsenal in the GOB’s pathway for pursuing a unilateral foreign policy agenda and or their political agenda, then this move would be retrograde and success highly unlikely. Perhaps instead the GOB should consider seriously an approach that more fully embraces respect for Belizeans rights to be able to participate, having been fully informed, in the discourse and challenges confronting our country. This process of ‘internal confidence building’ clearly cannot commence or its responsibility passed to any foreign entity for resolution or a quick fix. It must involve the GOB taking a more inclusive approach in the way business is currently being done. There must be a demonstrated departure from the governing by way of SI’s and proclamations, to a more democratic approach that see the strengthening of mechanisms, to educate, to inform and to  allow for meaningful dialogue and consultation all across the length and breadth of the Belizean landscape and in the diaspora. A continued failure to be inclusionary in approach and to right forthwith, the ills of an absolutely flawed electoral list and Government Registry, does no good in engendering trust by the Belizean citizenry in the intentions of the State.  There must be tangible evidence of the government getting it and a willingness to do the right thing. Such an approach would set in place the enabling environment in which to solicit the assistance of the United Nations to aid in the conducting of a referendum, on whether to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Sadly the GOB is not yet anywhere near the adoption of a different approach to governing. This became evident yet again, on June 30th 2017, when the Governor General of Belize signed a statutory Instrument, empowered by Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act, Chapter 9 of the Laws of Belize, signed a proclamation that “The date for the commencement of the re-registration exercise required to be carried out pursuant to section 9(1) of the Act, is hereby altered from 1st July 2017 to 1st July 2018.” This development sadly records what can easily be seen as another historic low, in terms of efforts aimed at strengthening our Belizean democracy.

As in the case of SI 42 of 2016, this proclamation of June 30th 2017 has effectively curtailed Belizeans opportunity to participate in a free democracy and in municipal election with a clean electoral list. The likely significance of this latest action, the GOB may well have calculated, would be lost on the Belizean populace and to that extent GOB’s diplomatic and political agenda would be advanced.  If this was a deliberate calculation on the part of the Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister, then the shame is on this UDP Government. In the event that the PUP does little or nothing to challenge this injustice meted out on our democracy, then the PUP may well be guilty vicariously, by their silence and lack of challenge to such a significant attack on our democracy.

In the current context of heightened aggression by Guatemala in respect to their perceived claim, to our country / or parts thereof, every diplomatic maneuvers by the GOB raises concerns. To the extent that the GOB isolates Belizeans, from a deeper dialogue, a more informed understanding of their actions, the GOB sows seeds of mistrust and disunity across the county of Belize. This isolation of the citizenry from meaningful dialogue by the leaders of Belizean diplomatic affairs clearly does not bode well for success based on inclusivity, at every step of the Belizean diplomatic initiatives.   Does the GOB not understand that they work to secure the interest of Belize and therefore meaningful consultation are absolutely critical and that this understanding must be evident at all times in their  diplomatic agenda and posture?

I end this article with the following quotes: Sir David Williams an eminent attorney and law advocate in his views on, Not in the Public Interest, treats with the accountable use of public power.  He wrote, “The ultimate danger of executive secrecy, in a much govern country, is that it denies the knowledge essential for an inform public opinion, and that it inhibits effective scrutiny and criticism of the government and administration. Likewise, Professor Conor Gearty, FBA, Professor of Human Rights Law and Director of Human Rights Study, in the 14th Annual Sir David Williams lecture, Center for Public Law, University of Cambridge, makes very interesting points exploring the law and public interest, past and present. He also discussed the rule of law and the protection of human rights.  Gearty argues quite forceful that the colonial period saw laws that was meant to serve the imperial public interest and countries still suffer from this legacy. Today the progress of the law towards human rights comes at a cost, when challenged. The government will continue to do what it wants – so long as there are such archaic laws which do not confer the full enjoyment of individuals human rights be it political, social, cultural or economic.

Belizeans the time to come together is now.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

This article was written by Godwin B. Sutherland Sr., Chairman of Vision Inspired by the People.

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