In a press release issued on Tuesday, January 17, 2017, The Belize Network of NGOs (BNN) expressed disappointment that the Government of Belize intends to proceed with this year’s first Session of the Senate before the Senator representing the NGO community has been sworn in. This would mean that the 13 Senator will not be able to participate in the Senate meeting scheduled for January 19, 2017. BNN has requested that the date for the substantive Senate meeting be postponed to allow the 13th Senator's participation, but their request has been rejected.
The Commencement Order for the 13th Senator was signed by the Prime Minister on October 20, 2016, to take effect on Friday, January 20, 2017. This means the 13th Senator should have been able to sit in Senate meetings as of January 20, 2017. However, the Clerk of the National Assembly and the President of the Senate announced in December 2016 that the next meeting of the Senate will be held January 19, 2017, just one day before the Commencement Order of the 13th Senator is to take effect.
The press release goes on to explain that the NGO community dutifully and in good faith, followed all steps as advised by the Office of the Attorney General. Following the election of the 13th Senator on January 10, 2017, the BNN Steering Committee officially notified the Governor General on January 11, 2017, of the results. A printed copy of same was hand delivered to the Governor General’s office on January 13, 2017. The contents informed the Governor General that Osmany Eduardo Salas was elected to be the NGO Community's representative in the Senate.
“We maintain that this timeline affords due process to be complied with in order to provide for the 13th Senator's participation in the first meeting of the Senate,” stated BNN’s press release.
“We are aware that the Government of Belize has taken the position that, before the 13th Senator can be installed, amendments to the NGO Act need to be passed to recognize that only registered NGOs can represent the interests of NGOs. However, it is the position of the Belize Network of NGOs that the NGO Amendment Bill has nothing to do with the 13th Senator being sworn in by the date at which the Commencement Order is to take effect (January 20, 2017).”
The NGO community believes that if it is the Government’s desire to pass the NGO Amendment Bill as per its official position prior to the seating of the 13th Senator, then in good faith the
Special Sitting of the Senate on January 19th can be to do just that – pass the NGO Amendment Bill – and a Senate meeting can then be convened either on January 20th or any date soon thereafter to consider all other matters that emanated from the House of Representatives meeting held on Friday, January 13, 2017.
In regard to several requests to reconsider the date of the Senate meeting, the President of the Senate has responded that he “discussed with the Clerk of National Assembly and the Special Senate meeting will be held as scheduled. Shortly after there will be another Senate meeting where our new Senator will be sworn in.” There was no reason cited.
The NGO community is of the position that it could be viewed as a breach of trust of the Belizean people and the NGO Community to purposely hold the first meeting of the Senate one day before the Commencement Order for the 13th Senator is to take effect, and to have that meeting discuss the proposed amendment to the Referendum Act and all other matters coming out of the House meeting without the benefit of the participation of the 13th Senator.