The United Democratic Party (UDP)'s Central Executive Committee and its Ethics and Integrity Committee should take steps to correct the practice of their members who are consistently absent from the House of Representatives," Belize People's Front (BPF) Leader Nancy Marin told The Reporter Wednesday. Following Wednesday's Sitting of the House of Representatives, where only two of five UDP parliamentarians were present, Marin reminded that all political parties, including the UDP, have internal structures to help uphold party discipline. The BPF leader, citing the UDP's Constitution, highlighted that they have a provision that says if a member has "acted contrary to the interests of the Party, Program, Policies, and Principles," there is a process that can be triggered to bring the member in line. In recent weeks, the UDP's internal disciplinary apparatus has expelled a member and—whether appropriately or otherwise—suspended a member from the Central Executive Council (CEC) for allegedly breaching parts of the UDP's Constitution. The party was quick to move in those instances but has ostensibly accepted the practice by certain members who are shirking their Parliamentary duties, an act that should be deemed as being contrary to the UDP's principles. Said principles include a call for members to display "selfless service to country and people, [and to display] responsible behaviour and accountability."
The UDP's constitution even sets as its aims and objectives the goal of promoting "high ethical standards, and dedicated, efficient [examples] in public life." Members of the House of Representatives are paid by the Belizean people to do a job as a member of the legislature, Marin stressed, pointing out that it is an official job in a branch of government. She questioned whether it could be deemed as a manifestation of "high ethical standards" for parliamentarians to be absent from work and still get paid.
Queen Square Representative Hon. Denise "Sistah B" Barrow has been the UDP parliamentarian that appears to have offended this principle the most, leading to PUP's Cayo South Area Representative Hon. Julius Espat making it a point to raise the issue in House Sittings.
At Wednesday’s Special Sitting of the House of Representatives, Barrow was absent again, prompting Acting Speaker of the House, Hon. Jorge Espat to make a note of her absence, suggesting that she was not taking the responsibility of representing the people of Queen Square, who elected her, seriously.
Barrow’s consistent absence from National Assembly meetings, as pointed out by Albert division Area Representative, Tracy Taegar Panton, has gone unpunished since the UDP became the opposition back in 2020, because, thus far, she has not breached the Standing Orders of the House.
But where the Standing Orders are insufficient, Article 3(1) of the UDP’s Constitution states, “The best interests of the Belizean people must at all times be paramount.”
Barrow’s conduct could also be seen as a violation of Section 3(5) of their party's rules, which prescribes that aspirants to political office must be dedicated to “selfless service to country and people” and dedicated to “responsible behaviour and accountability.” Furthermore, Article 5(c) of the Party’s own rules says members must “set a positive example in their political activity and personal life.”
Interestingly, Article 5(c) was also among the provisions cited when the UDP’s chairman wrote to inform Hon. Patrick Faber of his removal from the Central Executive Committee.
Disciplinary action to be taken against a party member of the UDP can be found in the Party’s Constitution’s Article 11(2) (h). This section, among other things, establishes The Ethics and Integrity Committee.
Section 2 (h) (ii) informs that whenever the Central Executive Committee or a Party Constituency Committee notices that a member of the Party may have "acted contrary to the interests of the Party, its Platform, Programs, Policies or Principles," the "Central Executive Committee may, at its discretion, cause an investigation to be made.”
Following the investigation, if the committee is satisfied that the member has a charge to answer to, the committee shall forward to the member a statement of the charge together with particulars of the allegation upon which the charge is based.
In this regard, the continued public complaints by parliamentarians and the Speaker of the House regarding Barrow’s absence could be viewed, among other things, as actions that are “contrary to the interests of the Party.” It is yet to be seen if the CEC or the relevant constituency committee shall take action to arrest the member’s absences from the House of Representatives.