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Draft Constitution needs to go to referendum: People’s Constitution Comm. Chairman

The Belizean people should be made to vote on a draft Constitution and not just a summary of the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC)’s report, PCC Chairman Anthony Chanona told The Reporter Thursday.

Chanona, who says the PCC Act can benefit from some amendments, underscored the fact that the current language of Section 22 of the Act “is not clear” as to what the end product of the process will be in terms of what will go to referendum. “The law is broad,” Chanona admonished. “This is a concern because at the end of this process and after all resources have been expended, the product from the PCC should be beyond all doubt.”

Particularly, the PCC Chairman was referencing Section 22 of the Act, which reads:

“A referendum shall be conducted where the National Assembly passes a resolution declaring that the matter stated in the report, whether the Belize Constitution should be repealed and replaced or amended, is of sufficient national importance that it should be submitted to the electors for their view through a referendum.”

The general interpretation of that section suggests that only the recommendation to either amend or repeal and replace the existing Constitution will be put before the people of Belize. This, however, leaves unanswered the matter as to whom or which body shall be responsible for ultimately “translating” the contents of the PCC’s report into the draft text of the amended or new Supreme Law.

“It should not be left in the realm of the political executive to interpret what is in the report,” the PCC Chairman cautioned. “I think we could get into a political football and political mischief if that happens. Remember [around that time], we’d be pretty much close to the next general election.”

To address this gap in the law, Chanona suggested that a remedy would be simply to amend Section 23 of the Act in such a way as to allow the PCC to continue working until the referendum on a draft Constitution is concluded.

“Instead of having the politicians determine what is in the report, it might perhaps be best not to dissolve the Commission,” he advised. “Have the Commission defend its work all the way to the referendum, rather than having it in a political realm that could undo all the hard work that the commission would have done. That’s another area that requires amendment. … To give this work the best chance in a referendum is to have the PCC defend its work and not stand down and dissolved.”

In terms of the PCC’s dissolution, the Chairman was citing Section 23 of the PCC Act, which says that the PCC shall “stand dissolved upon the submission of the report to the Prime Minister … or on the expiration of the term of the Commission.”

Chanona also indicated that he will also seek the support of all Commissioners on these matters, and he shared that he will do his part to communicate the need for these changes to the government.

Notwithstanding the aforementioned concerns, the Chairman did not describe the current language as grounds for abandoning the work. “Nevertheless, we will work with what we have, but as we progress, I will try to impress on the powers that be that there is a need that these areas of the law be revisited.”

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