By Shane D. Williams
Today there is a “socialite” from a wealthy family out on bail after she was charged for killing a senior ranking police officer on a night she was found in possession of personal quantity cocaine. Also today, there is a hardworking family man from rural Belize in prison serving the early days of a three-year prison sentence because police found his recently deceased father’s licensed shotgun in his home. She claims she did not know the gun was loaded when she shot and killed the police officer. He claims he did not know he was to take his father’s gun to the police station after he died, especially since the license has still not expired. One of those persons was given every benefit of the doubt and the most lenient charge on the books while the other was hit with the full force of the law and coerced into pleading guilty to charges in order to secure the freedom of his wife. These are two people in a country with two very different justice systems: one for the wealthy and connected and one for the rest of us. And according to our Constitution, one of them is no longer qualified to run for nationally elected office.
Who can forget Mr. Clarke who was convicted and imprisoned for theft after he and his eight-year-old daughter were so hungry that his desperation led to him stealing a tin of corned beef? Mr. Castillo’s family was so hungry that he went to William’s Supermarket and stole a pack of Happy Cow cheese and four packs of baking powder to go make breakfast for them to eat. Miss Welcome was sent to prison for a year for stealing a tin of Wood and Dunn Creamy Butter so she can sell to buy food for her children. A 22-year-old bus conductor was charged for stealing $18 to buy food because his employer had not given him his food allowance. A bunch of idle youths broke into the Belize Civic Center, went for a swim in the water reservoir and caused damage to the facility. How about the many youths selling marijuana to and for the children of more fortunate Belizeans so they too can have food at home to eat? Should they be disqualified from ever working for a better Belize in the legislative branch of government?
The debate around the proposed Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution of Belize has brought awareness to an unjust law that has existed for decades – a law that is discriminatory in nature towards individuals who have erred in life. If the intention of the drafters was to disqualify the lawless and immoral then they fell woefully short when they were satisfied with a constitution that is blind to individuals who have misappropriated and misdirected millions of dollars from the public purse but closes the door on the rehabilitated, reformed and redeemed. One act does not define an individual’s character and one legally offensive act should not permanently disqualify an individual from fully participating in the democratic process of the country.
By Shane D. Williams