PUP still blocking Referendum Print E-mail
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Thursday, 18 April 2019 00:00

During last week’s House Meeting, readers will definitely have heard different PUP parliamentarians claiming that they want to see Belizeans vote in a referendum and decide in a historic first how they want the Belize-Guatemala Territorial dispute to be resolved. Well, their actions speak louder than their words, and now, their continued attempts to subvert democracy on this important issue has now ended up in both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court at the same time.

On Monday, April 15, 2019, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin held a first hearing for the PUP’s lawsuit against the 2008 Special Agreement. Readers will know very well that in December of that year, the Government’s of both Belize and Guatemala signed that treaty agreeing to settle the dispute at the ICJ, subject to the results of referenda in both countries.This was after years of failed negotiations to try to settle it peacefully.

The PUP complained about everything under the sun that relates to Belize’s attempt to go to referendum, which was scheduled for April 10. Their complaints finally found success in the Supreme Court and Chief Justice Benjamin granted an injunction restraining the Government from holding the referendum, which should have taken place last week. That was only an interim measure to allow the maintenance of the status quo while the court hears and eventually disposes of the PUP’s lawsuit, one way or the other.

So, Monday was supposed to be the beginning of the real battle over the Special Agreement, but Lisa Shoman, the Government’s attorney in this case, went to court with an application to discharge the injunction that the Chief Justice granted. The reasoning behind this is that the judge granted the injunction, on the premise that the Government’s writ of referendum needed to be tested, to ensure that it complied with the Referendum Act. However, when the country had to abort the April 10 referendum and postpone to a later date, that writ expired. So, from the Government’s perspective, there is no longer any need for the injunction.

Shoman explained to the press outside of court saying, “If the writs on which the injunction were date specific, and meant for specific writs, those writs are not in existence right now. So, what are you enjoining. There is no referendum being held under those writs, and in fact, there are no longer any writs. They’ve expired.”

Since the PUP’s lead attorney, Eamon Courtenay, was in the Senate debating the Government’s new Belize Territorial Dispute Referendum Bill, and the PUP attorneys present for the hearing hadn’t consult with their clients, the judge granted an adjournment of this case until April 29. On that date, he will hear both sides on this application to set aside the injunction.

At the end of Monday’s hearing, the press also learned that the PUP has gone ahead and filed an appeal of their Special Agreement case, even before the Supreme Court has really had an opportunity to address it fully. Their zeal to continue blocking Belizean voters from having their referendum has prompted them decide that the can’t take any chances.

While they were trying to convince Chief Justice Benjamin to grant the injunction, they brought up their complaint against the Barrow Government about the Special Agreement. From their perspective, if Belize goes to the ICJ, and if the judges agree that Guatemala is entitled to some of our territory, then a constitutional amendment in the House is needed to do this, which can only be done at the House and the Senate.

The Chief Justice rejected that argument in this preliminary injunction phase, and so, there is uncertainty whether or not the main reason for the PUP began the claim will even have its day in the Supreme Court. So, they have gone ahead and preemptively filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal, even before the Chief Justice has heard their lawsuit to completion. They want to ensure that their claim remains live and relevant, and so, it is before these two courts at the same time. The Court of Appeal has scheduled a case management conference on this issue for Thursday, April 18. The court may need to stay that appeal to allow the Supreme Court to conclude its business of trying to resolve it.

Discussing it briefly with the press, Kareem Musa, the attorney for the PUP who attended Supreme Court for the first hearing said, “The second issue which is the constitutionality of the Special Agreement is now currently before the Court of Appeal. And we go there on Thursday to address the case management conference.”

For all the PUP claims of wanting Belizeans to have a referendum on the ICJ, they keep trying to block it from happening.


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