Posted: Tuesday, July 6, 2021. 8:22 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: Area representative for Mesopotamia and Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, Moses “Shyne” Barrow, continues his crusade against the recently-introduced Eleventh Amendment to the Belize Constitution.
Speaking exclusively and extensively to Breaking Belize News, he sought to contrast the intent of the framers of the Constitution with the intentions of the ruling administration, placing the latter in a poorer light.
First, Barrow pointed out that the current law is written in the present tense, and is limited to crimes in the Commonwealth while the Amendment is written in the past tense and widens the net. From this, he gleans that, “the drafters of the Constitution wanted to prevent people were who were [presently] incarcerated – as the general elections are happening you are incarcerated – so how are you going to go to the House of Representatives, how are you going to – you understand, if an election happens – how are you going to represent your people?”
He adds that under the Representation of the People Act, election-related fraud or crime, past or present tense, is a ground for disqualification for even running for the House of Representatives.
The suggestion as raised by Attorney General Magali Marin Young in a statement to the Reporter newspaper that, as she said, “The amendment expands the place of conviction, beyond the Commonwealth to anywhere. It also prevents someone convicted of a corrupt act from sitting in the House or Senate,” is therefore misrepresentative and misleading, says Barrow.
The A.G. also stated that neither under the current law nor its replacement is there any violation of human rights because of the explicit provision of disqualification for someone convicted of a crime within the Commonwealth, now expanded to other jurisdictions.
Barrow told us he agrees with the social partner Senators that no further Constitutional amendments be proposed until the entire document is looked at as part of a Constitutional Assembly as proposed (we report on that elsewhere).
“I would opine that in the consultation they will do nationwide, I would support adding to the list of permanent bans where election crimes are already listed – I would support adding corruption while in public office, breach of public trust, I would support adding that,” said Barrow, adding that someone convicted of corrupt activities while in office clearly and reasonably does not deserve a second chance. But to lump in ordinary crimes, he added, was “arbitrary and draconian.”
In the U.S., he pointed out, convicted felons, can run for any public office including President at the federal level; if they are convicted while in public office, they could be drummed out and not allowed to run for public office – and even then, prisoner’s rights may be restored between five and ten years after the conclusion of the sentence.
Barrow also responded to comments by Minister of Home Affairs Kareem Musa, whom he pointed out represents a constituency of largely upper-middle-class voters who often, when in trouble, have access to high-powered lawyers and rarely see the inside of a jail, compared to poor and marginalized youth from elsewhere in the City, and especially on Southside, whom he contends have historically been discriminated against.
Attorney General Marin-Young denied any discriminatory basis on the traditional grounds of sex, race, place of origin, political opinions, color or creed in speaking to The Reporter.
Barrow again cited Musa’s claim that he was “torn” over supporting the legislation because he personally believes in redemption and rehabilitation. In that case, he told us, rather than seemingly seeking to punish one parliamentarian – him – for his success, the Government should try to make it so that former criminals find it even easier to turn their lives around and aspire to higher dreams and successes. The issue of election and representation should be left to the electorate – “The people choose from among themselves, so if they want the Southside people to choose people who don’t have criminal records, then they need to change the reality on the ground for the Southside people,” he stated.
As for himself, in New York State, his rights are restored as he has kept out of trouble for 13 years since his release and has taken the relevant anger management and conflict resolution classes as part of his condition for release.
And it was deliberate, he concluded, that the framers left out convictions in other countries as disqualification for public office here because their legal and judicial systems are different from Commonwealth countries. Some countries, for instance, routinely jail persons because of their religious and sexual orientation (of course, Belize’s own Section 53 of the Criminal Code, though rarely enforced, had the power to do so until it was amended by the Caleb Orozco case in 2016).
The differences between American federal law and individual state law, as well as differences between individual states, do not translate to Belize the way the Commonwealth’s Westminster system does.
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