The Belize Advisory Council, a constitutionally enshrined body that advises the Governor-General on several matters of state, is memberless, but the opposition and the Government have informed that this will soon be addressed.
This week, The Reporter spoke to Cabinet Secretary Stuart Leslie and the Leader of the Opposition Moses “Shyne” Barrow, who both informed that their appointees to the Council will be complete by next week.
In accordance with section 54 of the Constitution of Belize, the Council should have seven members. The Supreme Law states: “The Council shall consist of two senior members, who shall be persons of integrity and high national standing, appointed by the Governor General, acting in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister; and two senior members…in accordance with the advice of the Leader of the Opposition; and three other members…in accordance with the advice of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition.”
Considering the internal leadership squabble between Barrow and UDP Party Leader Hon. Patrick Faber, the Leader of the Opposition (LOO) could not say specifically whether his appointees to the Council could be replaced if Faber reassumes the LOO title.
The lack of a functional Advisory Council became evident when Ramiro De la Rosa, a father of two, was sentenced to a three-year prison sentence three weeks ago for a shotgun that his now deceased father had licensed. De La Rosa’s father had left the gun in the attic at the home where De La Rosa and his family now lives.
Since his sentencing, a group of citizens have signed a petition that was addressed to the Governor-General to ask for pardon for De la Rosa. While it is not clear if the Governor-General has received the letter, section 52 of the Constitution states:
“(1) The Governor-General may grant a pardon … (2) The powers of the Governor-General under subsection (1) of this section shall be exercised by him in accordance with the advice of the Belize Advisory Council.”
The Tenth Amendment
Why it has taken so long before a new Council has been appointed is not clear, but the portion of the law that governs this and several other constitutional bodies has become the subject of much debate since the Government introduced the Belize Constitution Tenth Amendment Bill, 2021.
The amendment seeks to change the tenure of the members of the Council to one that ends at the dissolution of the National Assembly, which, by law, occurs just prior to the next General Election.
The reader may have observed that the Constitution provides for two types of members on the Council: four “senior” members and three non-senior members.
In the case of the four “senior” members, the current language of section 54 (3) and (4) Constitution states:
“Subject to the proviso to this subsection, a senior member of the Council shall hold office until he reaches the age of seventy-five years, unless he earlier resigns his office by writing under his own hand addressed to the Governor-General, or if by a resolution of the House of Representatives supported by two-thirds of the members of that House he is declared unable to discharge the functions of his office by reason of persistent absence or infirmity of body or mind, or to be in breach of the provisions of section 121 of this Constitution (which deals with codes of conduct).”
In the case of the ‘non-senior’ members, the language is fairly similar to their ‘senior’ colleagues, except that their term is for three years (as opposed to up to the age of seventy-five).
The Tenth Amendment, however, if passed into law, would see these tenure provisions changed to read:
“Notwithstanding sub-sections (3) and (4), the office of a member of the Belize Advisory Council shall become vacant at the next dissolution of the National Assembly after his appointment, provided that, in the case of the members of the Belize Advisory Council appointed prior to the commencement of this Act, each of their appointment shall be deemed to cease as at the day of commencement of this Act.”
Social Partner Senators’
Being that the National Assembly is dissolved just prior to a General Election, the amendment, therefore, would cause both “senior” and non-senior members to be removed from the Council. This fact has caused the four social partner senators—those representing the unions, churches, private sector, and the Belize Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (BNN)—to write the government to say:
“The Bill is a departure from the intent of the related provisions of the Constitution (Sections 54, 88, 105 and 110C), which currently enshrines the impartiality of the four affected bodies. Linking the tenure of all the members of the four affected bodies to election cycles removes any impartiality or the semblance thereof.” Readers could view the senators’ full letter here.
The Tenth Amendment also aims to make similar changes to the Public Services Commission, the Security Services Commission, and the Elections and Boundaries Commission.