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CONFLICT OF INTEREST! UDP says PUP Senator cannot double as re-districting official

By Michelle Sutherland

PUP Senator Collett Montejo’s role as a field supervisor involved in the redistricting process disqualifies him as a senator, UDP Chairman Michael Peyrefitte said this week.

Peyrefitte, speaking at a United Democratic Party (UDP) press conference on Tuesday, cited Section 63(1)(f) of the Constitution of Belize, which reads:

“No person shall be qualified to be appointed as a Senator who … is disqualified for membership of the House of Representative by any law by reason of his holding, or acting in, any office the functions of which involve; (i) any responsibility for, or in connection with, the conduct of any election; or (ii) any responsibility for the compilation or revision of any electoral register.”

According to Peyrefitte, Montejo is in breach of this section of the Constitution. “This man has taken on a job to do that exact same thing. He needs to resign from the Senate if he wants to do that job,” he stressed.

For his part, UDP Party Leader Moses “Shyne” Barrow called Montejo's appointment “another assault on our democracy” that seeks to disenfranchise Belizeans. According to Barrow, Montejo, in his capacity as a senator, cannot be seen as an objective person and went as far as to question whether Montejo would be able to accomplish the redistricting task with equal representation in mind.

“Mr. Montejo is as partisan as it comes, and that is why the Elections and Boundaries Commission was set up to transcend politics. The PUP promised that this was not the government they would be. They promised transparency, accountability, and good governance,” said Barrow.

The conflict, as raised by the Opposition, comes from the fact that section 90(4) of the Constitution of Belize states: “When the Election and Boundaries Commission considers it necessary to increase the number of electoral divisions …it shall make proposals to the National Assembly, and the National Assembly may enact a law to give effect to such proposals.”

The Senate, within which Montejo represents the PUP administration, is a part of the National Assembly. Consequently, the Constitution’s section-63 provision appears to be aimed at minimizing the likelihood of conflicts of interests, as well as limiting the potential for gerrymandering to occur.

Applied to Montejo’s case, the senator would essentially be tasked with voting in the upper house on proposals for redistricting that he himself had overseen in the field on behalf of the incumbent government.

Last week, the Elections and Boundaries Commission had informed the public of Montejo's appointment as supervisor of all fieldwork for the gathering and providing of all information for the consideration of the task force. The Commission ended by saying that they hope to wrap up the process by the year 2023.

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