By Michelle Sutherland
Three weeks after receiving over 20,000 signed petitions from Governor-General H.E Froyal Tzalam for vetting, the head of the Elections and Boundaries Department says that they are almost halfway through the process and remain confident that they will be able to deliver a response within the prescribe two-month timeframe.
Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai told The Reporter on Thursday “In regards to the vetting of petitions, as a department, I can say that we are well on our way with the vetting exercise. We had requested some assistance from other public officers within the public service, and those individuals have already been posted to the Election and Boundaries Department. So that work has started. We are probably about midway in regards to that.”
Tamai confirmed that the Governor-General had officially handed over the petitions to her on May 5th, at which point the two-month countdown had officially commenced as per the Referendum Act.
She noted that with the assistance of other public servants the process has been going very smoothly, without any major hiccups. She further claimed that while she will refrain from saying whether they will be able to meet the deadline well in advance, the teams have been going through the signatures very meticulously, one by one and examining them in an effort not to disenfranchise anyone in the process.
On May 3rd, 2022, the churches delivered over 20,000 signatures to the Governor-General seeking to trigger a referendum on the legalization of Marijuana in Belize. While Tamai said that the churches only need 18,757 (10% of the voting population) legitimate signatures to trigger the referendum, she was careful in responding to the question on whether or not she believed that they will be successful
“The process is going smoothly but I won't be able to comment as to where we are in terms of signatures and if they are matching,” she said. “As I said, we are still doing that exercise currently so I won't be able to comment as to which direction the results will yield at the end of the exercise. It's way too early to say or determine if they will be able to meet the threshold.”
Tamai also told us that Village Council elections are not having any effect on the verification process since they have separate teams that are doing the vetting. She said that even if the department has to dispatch additional personnel to assist or even work overtime to get the vetting completed within the timeframe then they will resort to that.
When we checked in with the churches, they indicated that they haven't received a response as yet and highly suspect that the Elections and Boundaries Department will take the entire two months to complete the vetting. They say that based on the timeframe, they expect to get a response by July 3rd.
According to the Referendum Act, once the Chief Elections Officer verifies that the threshold has been met, that will be conveyed in writing to the Governor-General, who, within 30 days, is required to issue a Writ of Referendum.