I am also in support of an elected senate to be a part of the legislative body in my country of Belize but for the following reasons:
1. Historically, the people who are appointed as senators are loyal to the prime minister and must comply by his wishes even if they disagree with him. This has cost us gravely because the senators normally just approve anything that comes out of the House of Representatives.
2. The two political parties have been using the senate to appoint people to become ministers of their government over the elected members of the House of Representatives. I believe that, in a democracy, appointed people should never have more power than elected people. In this type of arrangement it is the opposite. The PUP has used this more than the UDP and, if I can remember correctly, Dean Barrow our current PM is the first UDP prime minister to appoint unelected people to be senators and then make them ministers of his government.
3. In the United States, the Senate has different functions from the House of Representatives that are clearly defined. If we are going to have an elected senate it will be wise to state what the duties of the senate will be that is different from the House of Representatives.
4. Belize does not have a check and balance system of government between the executive, legislative and judiciary branches of government. When a political party comes to power, they can do as they please for that entire five years. Having an elected senate will give the other political parties the opportunity to elect members of the senate if they have no or fewer members in the House of Representatives.
5. I have not seen what is going to be the political framework for the elected senate and this is an area where I have grave concern. Why? Because in the makeup of the current House of Representatives, I believe that the two southern districts, namely, Stann Creek and Toledo are being disenfranchised. All the districts apart from the Belize District have four representatives while these two districts are left with two up to this day despite the fact that their population has grown over the years. This is something where the people from the south must demand change.
6. I am not convinced that an elected senate alone will help to reduce corruption in Belize. I think we should consider amending our constitution to make the office of the attorney general an independent position. He or she will be elected by the people on the day of election and be given a five year term. That person will be the chief law enforcement official to bring charges against anyone who violates our country’s laws. He or she will also draft and revise a code of ethics laws for government representatives and civil servants. He or she shall appoint a director of public prosecution and crown counsel for each district to prosecute cases. These crown counsel will be under his director of public prosecution. Under the current constitution, the attorneys general are appointed by the prime minister and are part of his Cabinet. It is highly unlikely that the attorney general will bring any charges against the prime minister, ministers of his government or anybody in that is in his administration. That is just wishful thinking. The country needs real reform that will bring about results. The powers of the attorney general will be upgraded in the constitution to ensure that the elected government does not undermine him her or try to obstruct his or her duties.
7. Belize has six districts and I would recommend that we have equal representation for all the districts in Belize, despite the number of senators. One appointment will be made by the governor general of Belize and that will make the senate have an uneven number to avoid a tied vote.
These have always been my thoughts about an elected senate and I am sharing it in this much needed debate. Since our country is growing politically, we can all contribute to its political growth with our ideas and suggestions. After all, if what we currently have is not working to benefit our country and people, we have the power to change it.
Wellington C. Ramos
Adjunct Professor of Political Science/History