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OPINION || A Reflection on the People’s Constitutional Commission

By Dominic Dybala

Belize is in the midst of a period of potential constitutional reformation or revolution, for good or ill. Having read the Constitution, we wholeheartedly agree that certain changes are warranted. It is full of legal jargon difficult to understand and should be clarified and simplified. But we must be very careful!

Beware of the false premise that old is bad and new is good. Stability is a virtue in government, equally vital to the well-being of a nation as adaptability. It would be irresponsible to encourage the people of Belize to tear down their constitution which satisfied George Price himself and has well-served the country for 40 years, in exchange for a new constitution which has not yet been articulated or presented for open deliberation.

Let’s not take down a fence without knowing why it was first put up. Encouraging young Belizeans to be dissatisfied and frustrated with their constitution is not the way to form patriots.

Mexico has had three official constitutions and more unofficial ones and at least three civil wars to go along with them. In the Revolutionary years 1791-1804, France had no less than six constitutions and has had five since then. Are these the role models that the PCC and the nation of Belize wish to emulate?

Sir Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France are apropos: “[Y]ou possessed in some parts the walls and in all the foundations of a noble and venerable castle. You might have repaired those walls; you might have built on those old foundations. … You had all these advantages in your ancient states, but you acted as if you had never been molded into civil society and had everything to begin anew. You began ill because you began by despising everything that belonged to you.”

The Belize Constitution is a standard to be striven to be met, amended perhaps, but not to be exchanged for a new one. I pray the PCC and all Belizeans who love democracy, God, and their country, consider the following reflections for the good of the nation.

First, the people must be educated on the current constitution, or else their participation will really be manipulation by the media.

The PCC “is mandated to conduct a comprehensive review of the Belize Constitution, in part by consulting with the Belizean people to understand their opinions on what should be changed in the Constitution.” But the people of Belize cannot yet give knowledgeable consent to any constitutional amendments considering that approximately 98% of the people have not read our current constitution.

First, we must educate the people of Belize about our constitution and what is at stake before asking for their opinion for what to change.

Second, for the PCC to be truly guided by the principle of “transparency,” it should keep the public updated with a full list of any and all constitutional amendments being considered.

Third, there is the view that the Constitution “in many respects still reflects values and institutions of Belize’s colonial origins over 40 years ago.” The Prime Minister is a Hispanic man, however, and the Governor General is a Mayan woman. Precisely “what colonial values and institutions” is there “strong support for reviewing?”

Those who consider the office of the Governor-General as odious to Belizean sovereignty and pride should remember that Australia, Canada, and other Commonwealth countries consent to having a Governor General appointed by their monarch, indeed taking security and pride in this.

Fourth, there are some concerns that a new constitution will infringe on the independence or influence of the Church. The people of Belize may not know what they believe about their constitution, but they do believe in the Christian God (approximately 40% Catholic, 30% Protestant). Pope John Paul II’s visit to Belize, on 9 March 1983 drew a crowd of 30,000 to the airport where he celebrated Mass, the largest crowd in Belizean history.

If anything, this is evidence of the democratic will of the people of Belize. The Right Honorable Prime Minister George Price, who privately spoke with Pope JPII on his visit, said in an interview with CaribNation TV: “Every right must have a duty, every duty must have a right,” and “In everything, there is the law of God. There are the Commandments which we must respect. … And these principles are incorporated into the laws of Belize. … Our Constitution acknowledges the supremacy of God, that’s the first thing. And from that acknowledgement, that recognition, stems all the things that follow.

Fifth, there are a number of problems with the vague proposition that a new constitution might provide free education and healthcare and increase women’s rights. First, the Constitution already defends equal access to education, healthcare, and political participation regardless of ethnicity, creed, or sex.

If promising such rights in the current constitution is not sufficient, then how will promising the right in a new constitution be so?

Second, a basic understanding of economics is sufficient to demonstrate that “free” education and healthcare does not exist. We must assume that at least the government may have to raise taxes to pay for public education and healthcare.

Third, even if taxes were raised to pay for public education and healthcare by order of a new constitution, it would not necessarily actually improve conditions. “Free/Public” does not mean “good quality.” Whatever improvement Belize needs in gender and racial equality and access to healthcare and education needs to be made in the execution of the current constitution and laws, not in changing the constitution itself.

Again, we agree that a constitutional revision is in order. Its difficulty is surely a factor in why so few Belizeans have read it. A comparison to the texts of other nations’ constitutions shows that in many cases the same rights and regulations may be codified in half the words currently used. But simplifying the text is only half the battle. For an active and healthy Democracy, the people of Belize must be better educated - and informed - in the functioning of their nation’s government so that their involvement may be effective.

I pray the PCC and all Belizeans who love democracy, God, and their country, consider these reflections for the good of the nation.

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