UDP hosts press conference to address issues of national importance

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Since coming into opposition following the 2020 General Elections, the United Democratic Party Leader and current Leader of the Opposition Hon. Patrick Faber formed a slate to make up a Shadow Cabinet and Opposition spokespersons. They are now the persons responsible to hold the current administration to their word and to ensure that they are acting legally and within the best interest of the country. While they meet on a weekly basis, since the November election, the first public proclamation from members of the Shadow Cabinet and Opposition spokespersons was held on Thursday, January 21, 2021 when Hon. Patrick Faber expressed that it is his and the party’s opinion that the PUP is not acting in the country’s best interest in some areas. Some of their actions so far have not been productive to the country’s development.
To address some those issues were the Leader of the Opposition himself, Orson J. “OJ” Elrington, shadowing for the ministries of Public Utilities and Infrastructure Development and Housing; Hon. Shyne Barrow, shadow minister for the ministries of Education, Culture, Science, and Technology and Youth, Sports, and E-Governance; Senator Hon. Michael Peyrefitte, Foreign Affairs; and Hon. Sheena Pitts, shadowing in the Attorney General’s ministry.
Starting the press conference off was Senator Pitts who addressed issues within the judiciary. The new judicial year has just started and at the ceremonial opening of the Supreme Court, acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana highlighted some of the issues and limitation within the justice system. These issues, according to Sen. Pitts, are being worsened by the current administration. There are a myriad of concerns which the judiciary faces and while Sen. Pitts admits that these are not overnight issues, these are issues which are being compounded by the PUP. For some time, there has been a shortage of judicial officers at both the Supreme and Magistrate Court levels, less than sufficient financial and work resources, and a threat to the independence of the judiciary. Since coming into office, there have been no mention of concrete ways to adequately strengthen the human resources within the judiciary. Furthermore, she says that the PUP has further cut the judiciary’s already inadequate and meager financial resources from over $10 million to just over $9 million for the 2021/2022 budget. Lastly, the PUP is looking to threaten and trespass on how the judiciary manages itself through the actuation of pending legislation which undermine the security of tenure of judges. Responding to these issues highlighted, Attorney General Magali Marin Young took a political stance and replied with rhetoric and insincerity.
Moving from the judiciary to land and labour, Attorney-at-law OJ Elrington took the stage. In campaigning, one of the PUP’s greatest promises was land for everyone but since coming into office, has acted contrary to that. Referring to their Plan Belize manifesto, the promise was made to every Belizean, especially women and first-time landowners, regardless of their political stance but now, their mantra has shifted to state that it is impossible for everyone to get. Thus far, their very first action has been contradictory to their initial statements and to block hundreds of accounts at the Lands Department to secure their land title. Some 300 persons have gone on to seek legal representation against the Department and since having received a letter warning of legal action, the Lands Department has gone on to unblock some of those persons. Elrington continued that the PUP had also promised to digitize the process for non-partisan efforts but has done the opposite by reversing the ability of persons to make digital payments.
There has likewise been both a moral and legal breach when it comes to the firings of hundreds of Belizeans since November. One of the PUP’s pledges was to provide jobs but since coming into office, have gone on to illegally and without reason, fire people from within a number of government ministries and departments. Because these persons were fired without reason, it is safe to assume that they lost their jobs for not being stalwart supporters of the PUP. This goes against the Constitution which specifies that people cannot be discriminated against because of their political affiliation, or lack thereof. Elrington says that within the UDP, a legal team is trying to determine the likelihood of pursuing a constitutional claim for discrimination of behalf of some of these persons.
Sen. Hon. Michael Peyrefitte addressed the “indefinite curfew” which was enacted by the PUP in December. Hon. Peyrefitte, former Attorney General, says that it is not only unconstitutional to have a curfew without a declared State of Emergency (SOE) but that it is also impractical to have a curfew without a known end. He made reference to the Constitution which states that the people have a right to free movement. This movement is only restricted when an SOE is enacted by the Governor General. There has been no declaration of an SOE, which makes the indefinite restriction of that movement unconstitutional and impractical. He admits that while a curfew is beneficial to slow the spread of COVID-19 as well as to lessen crimes, the Belizean people at least has a right to know when this comes to an end. Having this curfew for an indefinite period he says just shows that the PUP does not know what they are doing and not in the best interest of the Belizean people.
In keeping with current issues which we are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was also mention of the freezing of social assistance packages. One of the PUP’s first actions since coming into office was the cessation of the pantry program. Admittedly, they have restarted that social assistance program but aside from being significantly slimmed down, the program may soon come to a complete end. Hon. Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, Minister of Human Development, Women and Civil Society, has said that everyone cannot benefit from the program and that after this fiscal year ends, there are no promises that the program will restart. The PUP has said that there are no funds to sustain this or other social assistance programs but have been able to find $14 million in a supplementary budget to repair streets. Hon. Shyne Barrow picked at that decision, chanting a mantra of the PUP that the people cannot eat streets. When the Barrow administration was in power and provided jobs and better infrastructure for the Belizean people through the upgrading of streets and roads, the PUP consistently said that the Belizean people cannot eat streets. Now, it seems that they have completely forgotten that stance by allocating $14 million for streets yet very little for social support. Hon. Shyne Barrow pointed out that now, more than ever, the people are in need of food and not streets. He noted that on one hand, there are measures to keep people from going out to earn a living yet there are no support mechanisms in place to assist people.
Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition Hon. Patrick Faber resounded these statements, especially with reference to the issues currently being faced by the Belizean people under the pandemic. More so, though, he addressed the difficulties of teachers who are responsible for distance teaching. The PUP very recently has issued a release stating that effective the upcoming school year, teachers will not be entitled to paid study leave. Hon. Patrick Faber says that this was done to give the impression that the party is doing what is necessary to make it seem as though they are saving the economy when that is simply not the case. There have been no concrete measures from this administration to take us back to economic recovery, a pre-election promise. This, again, shows that they are moving without intent and plan.
Hon. Patrick Faber highlighted the concerns surrounding the reopening of the Corozal Free Zone (CFZ) which is quickly coming upon us. He affirmed that the UDP is not against the opening and understands that we need to take measures to reengage our economy but are wary of the precautions. The PUP has not shared details of what steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the Belizean people, some 1,000 who will be returning to work at the CFZ. It is the possibility that there will be yet again another wave of COVID-19 cases and while the PUP has wanted to paint the narrative that there are fewer infections and deaths, that it simply not the case. He also brought up the issues with the testing measures being carried out by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, whose minister Hon. Patrick Faber says has politicized.
On these issues, the UDP pledges to hold the PUP accountable and encourages the Belizean people to do the same. Despite having limitations in expressing these and other concerns in the House of Representatives, the UDP has undertaken to let the voice of the people be heard. There is the promise of more consistent press conferences such as this one.