“Amendments to the Constitution cannot be frivolous or spur of the moment consideration,” Albert Area Representative Hon. Tracy Panton told The Reporter Thursday when asked for her views on the ostensible return on the so-called “Shyne Amendment.”
Panton explained that while she cannot know for certain, it is difficult to overlook the timing of this Bill being ordered to return to the Constitution and Foreign Affairs Committee and the No Confidence Motion put forward by the Leader of the Opposition. Additionally, the Supplementary Orders for Friday’s House Sitting show that the Bill is returning to the House for second reading.
On the question as to whether the sudden return of the Bill is a response to Leader of the Opposition Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow’s No-Confidence Motion, Panton said, “It seems to have come outside of the legislative agenda. I don’t know if it is a response to the No-Confidence motion, but there was no serious (public) discussion on it at this time.”
Panton added, “The concern that I have is that earlier in this term, the Government made a commitment to the social partners and the National Assembly that there will be a sober approach to amendments made to the Constitution of the country.”
She further opined that the expectation is that the Government would have refrained as much as possible from Constitutional amendments, leaving space for the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) to conduct its work. However, even outside of the PCC’s work, she underscored that the Constitution is the country’s supreme law, adding that it cannot be subject to whimsical changes that are not clearly guided by urgent public policy interests.
The amendment inserts the following to section 58(1) of the Constitution: “No person shall be qualified to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives who […] has served a sentence of imprisonment for more than twelve months, imposed by a court in or outside of Belize.”
The amendment also targets appointments to the Senate by amending Section 63. The Bill reads: “No person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator who […] has served a sentence of imprisonment for more than twelve months, imposed by a court in or outside of Belize.”
Returning to recent history, the Eleventh was part of a set of Constitutional amendments presented by the government in the early months of their term in office. In 2021, in response to the Tenth and Eleventh amendments, in particular, the Social Partner Senators objected to the government’s "piecemeal" approach to amending the supreme law. The senators had proposed, instead, that the government constitute a more comprehensive methodology. This ultimately led to the formation of the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC), which has an eighteen-month mandate to provide recommendations on changes (if any) to the Constitution.