The triggering of a referendum has nothing to do with Cabinet, National Evangelical Association of Belize (NEAB)'s Pastor Louis Wade told The Reporter today.
Responding to our question regarding the comments made earlier in the week by Minister of New Growth Industries Hon. Kareem Musa, Wade emphasized, "The thing that triggers a referendum is the 10 percent of signatures from those on the electoral list, and whose signatures have been vetted and approved by the Elections and Boundaries Department, after submission to the Governor-General. So it does not have anything to do with ministers or Cabinet."
Wade spoke in reference to section 2 of The Referendum Act which only lays out obligatory functions for the Governor-General and the Chief Elections Officer as it pertains to receiving and verifying the signatures on the petition. Section 2 of the Act reads:
"Subject to the provisions of this Act, a referendum shall be held in any of the following circumstances ... where a petition is presented to the GovernorGeneral signed by at least ten percent of the registered electors in Belize whose names appear in the approved voters’ list existing at the time of presentation of the petition."
The law would proceed to delineate the duties to be executed by the Governor-General and the Chief Election Officer as it pertains to verifying the signatures on the petition. The Referendum Act likewise sets the timeline within which the Governor-General is to issue the Writ of Referendum. Section 3 states:
"The Governor-General shall, within thirty days ... of the receipt of the certificate from the Chief Elections Officer pursuant to section 2(4), verifying that the petition has been duly signed by the requisite number of electors as specified in section 2(3) ...issue a Writ of Referendum in a form similar to the Writ of Elections in the Schedule V to the Representation of the People Act."
Wade opined that the comments from the minister, in his view, could "frustrate" the process by leading people to believe two incorrect ideas: First that there is a fixed deadline within which to obtain the requisite number of signatures, and, second, that Cabinet has the power to veto the petition.
"People will say, 'The Minister already said that it's too little too late. That this should have been done before," Wade shared. "Now, the person out there has to be convinced that it matters. That their signatures still matter. So, when someone refers to the minister's words, it is more than just an intent to frustrate the process, but they have actually and already frustrated it."
Regarding the supposed timeline, the NEAB member stressed that the law lays out no such timelines. "It is for this reason we only refer to NEAB's internal timelines," Wade underscored.
The Reporter also spoke with Wade on the argument that the referendum petition is coming too late, given that the Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Control and Licensing Bill (2022) has already gone through both the lower and upper houses of Parliament.
"It does not matter if it relates to a law that is already in existence, or pending legislation, or a Bill in any form, or even if it is only an idea that is taking root in society," Wade replied. It was pointed out that Section 2(b) of the Referendum Act only speaks to the petitioners' "opinion on a certain issue or matter" that they (the petitioners) deem as having "sufficient public importance that it should be submitted to the electors for their views through a referendum."
Wade was responding to the statement made by Minister Musa who, when answering the media's questions earlier this week, said that the Cabinet had to decide what would happen with the signatures. "It's not my decision. It is up to Cabinet to decide on what we do if it is that they come with a petition like that."
It must be noted that a referendum can, however, be called by the National Assembly under section 2(a) of the Referendum Act. The Act states:
"Subject to the provisions of this Act, a referendum shall be held in any of the following circumstances ... where the National Assembly passes a resolution declaring that a certain issue or matter is of sufficient national importance that it should be submitted to the electors for their view through a referendum."