By Michelle Sutherland
The Government of Belize launched the People's Constitution Commission this week, officially kick-starting the 18-month Constitutional review process.
At Monday’s launch, held in Belmopan, Minister with responsibility for the Ministry of Public Service, Constitutional and Political Reform and Religious Affairs Henry Charles Usher reminded the gathering that rewriting the supreme law of the land is no easy task and can only be done at the right time and under the right circumstances. A mandate, according to Usher, can only come from the people of Belize, who need to be at the center of that decision as well as the process.
According to Usher, the time has come for all that to happen, as during the country’s 42 years of Independence, Belizeans are finally taking a better look at the system and structures of governance. They are now thinking about new ways to solve problems, are graduating from representative government to participatory government, and are looking for a way to accelerate and hopefully complete the process of decolonization.
Usher’s presentation also focused on the fact that in April of 1981, neither the then Prime Minister of the Country nor any of the opposition members were present in London when the current constitution was finalized.
The country was deeply divided, and a state of emergency was in effect. Belizeans had no real say in making the constitution other than hastily held and poorly attended town meetings where the majority of the time was spent deciding on national symbols. Very little information was presented to the people, and as historian Assad Shoman recently said in a newspaper article, the consultation was just a formality, as people were never given the opportunity to change the colonial framework.
Since then, there have been many amendments to the constitution, incremental reform, expanding rights, and curtailing government abuse, but as a people, we have been limited in our efforts to expand substantive freedoms and create the conditions for genuine and sustainable development,” reiterated Usher.
Former Belmopan Mayor Anthony Chanona has been named chairman of the PCC. Twenty-six members currently sit on the PCC.
The process is expected to take place over a period of 18 months. The Commission’s findings will be compiled and presented to the Prime Minister before they are taken to a referendum for the ultimate decision.