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Not the Law but the Lawyers are the Asses. $2 Petition Too Late to Matter Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 27 October 2011 00:00

Said Musa and Lisa ShomanIn the House of Representatives on Friday, October 21st, Prime Minister Barrow provided very expensive legal advice to the group called “Friends of Belize” and did so free of cost. He explained to them that in order to have moved the referendum process to affect the bill they would have had to start the process much earlier. He explained, “You can't move the referendum process with respect to a constitutional amendment just before the Bill is to come back to the House for passage.”


Miraculously, the Friends of Belize claim to have garnered 21,000 signatures on a petition in one month. The organization launched the petition drive on September 12th and on October 4th Julius Espat, Standard Bearer for PUP, announced that they had received 1,600 signatures. Eight days later on October 12th, the organization presented a petition to the Governor General with 21,000 signatures.

Oceana and the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage held huge public events and attended other national festivals during their petition drive. They launched a huge media campaign and sponsored countless small projects. Yet, it took them more than a year to collect 17,000 signatures. The so called friends are expecting Belizeans to believe that they can be more than twelve times more efficient than the coalition without mass media campaign, special events and appearances. However, their petition and move for referendum does not depend on public perception.

If their petition was delivered to the Governor General on October 12th, he would have then handed it to the Elections and Boundaries Department for verification of signees. If the petition is legitimate, the Elections and Boundaries Department would return the petition to the Governor General sometime before December 12th. Based on the Referendum Act, the Governor General would then consider a suitable date for the referendum and then make that announcement by January 12th. Therefore, if their petition is legitimate, a referendum may be called for sometime after January 12th, 2012.

However, since the purpose of their referendum is to inform the legislature on the will of the people in regards to the Ninth Amendment Bill, it wouldn’t make much sense to call a referendum on that matter now that the bill has already been passed into law. Prime Minister Barrow did not err when he said that the Friends of Belize were “wrongly advised by their lawyers” and “they completely misread the law.”   He also mentioned  an old saying “that the law is an ass but in this case the lawyers were the asses...” They had hoped that their move for referendum would have delayed the passage of the Ninth. However, a referendum is not a requirement for constitutional amendments and the Vellos case ruled on by the Privy Council has already made that point extremely clear. Whether a referendum will be held or not has absolutely no impact on the passage of the nationalization bill. Once properly moved, a referendum can be called at anytime. Therefore, if their goal was to derail the passage of the Ninth Amendment Bill, their petition drive in which $2 was paid for every signature seems to have been a total waste of time.
Such terribly misguiding advice is the exact reason why the lord chose to bench his local attorneys.