Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand’: Lessons for Constitutional Reform from 1990s Belize (Part 1)

By Dylan Vernon, Real Story #6, 8 December 2023.

“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and never will.” This timeless piece of political wisdom from Frederick Douglas has been critical to determining the degree of success or failure of constitutional reform processes around the globe. So will it be for the current People’s Constitution Commission in Belize. Without informed and sustained advocacy from a critical mass of Belizeans, the odds are slim for a new or reformed constitution that meaningfully returns more power to the people and improves the quality of Belize’s democracy. In this regard, it is imperative to explore the lessons and impact of Belize’s first post-independence constitutional reform exercise – the Political Reform Commission of 1999-2000. (Image shows ten of the fourteen PRC Commissioners in 1999, names given below).

 The First Commission

A few people have incorrectly referred to the current People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) as Belize’s first comprehensive constitutional review process since independence. That it is second to the Political Reform Commission (PRC) of 1999-2000 does not make the PCC any less important. However, it is unfortunate that the PRC, including the historic people’s process that led to it, has gotten so little attention in the current national debate on constitutional reform.  … Read the rest...

Delayed Freedom & Realpolitik: The People and the Independence Constitution – Part IV (Conclusions)

By Dylan Vernon, (REAL #4, 13 October 2023)

So, were the people of Belize consulted on the first full draft or any other draft of their own Independence Constitution? Some certainly advocated to be consulted. Given that there were no public consultations on the preparation of the White Paper and given the rushed Joint Select Committee (JSC) consultations, there were reasoned requests in Belize for the people to be consulted on the draft Constitution.  In addition to examining the role of thev people in the final stage of making Belize’s Constitution, I also offer my concluding perspectives on why it was not more of the people, by the people and for the people.

Let Us See the Draft!

During the two-week public consultations across Belize on the White Paper in February and March 1981, several individuals and organisations argued for public consultations on the draft Constitution. And this was apart from the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP). Prominent among the national organisations that advocated for the public to be consulted on the draft Constitution were the Bar Association and the Chamber of Commerce. In its second written submission to the JSC of 2 March 1981 (signed by G. Brown), to the JSC, the BAR petitioned:

[T]he Association request that Government ensures a draft constitution, as opposed to a White Paper only, be made available well in advance of the crucial date, for distribution to members of the public, in good time to enable thorough study and the receipt by government of as many reasoned viewpoints as possible.Read the rest...

The People and the Belize Independence Constitution: Part II – The People Consulted?

By Dylan Vernon, (REAL STORY #2, 5 October 2023)

By 3 February 1981 when the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on the White Paper held is first (private) meeting, the People’s United Party (PUP) government already knew that it had just about two months before the Constitutional Conference in London to consult the people of Belize on the White Paper and prepare a report for the National Assembly. Otherwise, the tight schedule it had set for independence in 1981 would be in very serious jeopardy.

Pronto! Pronto!

Indeed, there was little time for consultations much less for education. In that first week of February, the PUP government put its still evolving plans to consult the people into high gear. Copies of the White Paper were sent to dozens of organisations and communities with a stated deadline for comments by 25 February 1981 – an eye-popping three-week turnaround! The JSC made public announcements on Radio Belize informing of district-level public sessions and how copies could be procured or read.

So it was that the JSC crammed nine public consultations on the White Paper into a rushed two-week period between 16 February and 2 March of that eventful year of independence. This meant, for example, that the people in the first session in Punta Gorda on 16 February had less than two weeks to review the document even if they got copies. … Read the rest...

The People and the Belize Independence Constitution: Part I – The Making of the White Paper

By Dylan Vernon, (REAL STORY#1, 2 October 2023)

This post is the first part of my four-part series on the Real Story of the making of the Independence Constitution of Belize and on the question of what role the people of Belize had in it. In this first part, I examine the making of the White Paper. Part II is in on the public consultations on it. In Part III I focus on the Constitutional Conference in London, and in Part IV I share conclusions. I advise that the parts be read in sequence.

 Divergent Opinions

By the time I chaired the Political Reform Commission in 1999, I was well aware of the divide in political opinion on to what extent, if any, the 1981 Constitution of Belize was ‘of the people’. In broad terms, there are two identifiable camps. A larger traditionalist camp holds that key Belizean nationalist leaders prepared the Constitution with considerable input from the Belizean people. This camp takes offence to any deviation from this narrative – often at the price of ignoring history. On the other side, a revisionist camp argues that the Constitution was inherited from imperialist Britain with only a few tweaks made by the local political elite, and that hurried consultations prevented the people from having any meaningful say.… Read the rest...