From a Queen to a King to What?  Belize Still Waiting in 2024

By Dylan Vernon, Real Story #8, April 15, 2024.

In my Fifteen Proposals for a People’s Constitution, I argue that replacing the British monarch as our Head of State must be more than symbolic. Changing nothing else will simply mean that we move from being a parliamentary monarchy to a parliamentary republic with a Belizean figurehead. When the time does come, how can we make it more substantive than just changing figureheads? My proposal for a directly elected national leader (often called a president) leading a Cabinet with members from outside the legislature will receive intense opposition from those who benefit most from the existing power dynamics. But prior to even discussing this or any proposal on what kind of republic we want to be, we have to agree that we want to be one. Even in 2024, that part does not seem straightforward.

Looking Back: Republic Talk in 1963

Photo shows W.H. Courtenay, C.L.B Rogers and George Price signing on to the self-government Constitution in London in July 1963.

In pre-independence Belize the majority public sentiment leaned decidedly towards imitating British parliamentary model and practice. But, since the nationalist movement began in the 1950’s there were always alternative voices.… Read the rest...

Talking About a Revolution? Fifteen Proposals for a People’s Constitution

By Dylan Vernon, TIME COME #6, 3 April 2024.

What should be in the Constitution of Belize to truly make it a ‘People’s Constitution’? We complain and, sometimes, even agree about what’s wrong, but finding common, enduring and impactful reforms eludes us. In this TIME COME, I share some pieces of the puzzle that I believe are needed for framing meaningful constitutional change. These fifteen proposals evolve from long years of analysis and advocacy for political reforms that enhance both formal and social democracy. They are not all original nor exhaustive but hopefully provocative. Some will be deemed too radical, a few too conservative. But it is crystal clear that incremental partisan constitutional tinkering since independence has failed miserably to tackle the core threats to the quality of our democracy and national development. It’s high time for revolutionary constitutional thinking and action.

A Constitution – More Than Fancy Words

If Belize’s expensive education system and if the current People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) were on the ball, more Belizeans would know that our Constitution should not be distant from our common aspirations, problems and lived realities. More Belizeans would know why our Constitution and its reform are crucially important for our enjoyment of human rights, for better governance and for the public issues that affect our daily livelihoods – jobs, taxes, education, roads, security, housing, healthcare etc.… Read the rest...

Representation of the People – challenging our shallow democracy

By Harold A. Young, Guest Post #1, February 19, 2024.

(NOTE: This offering of TIME COME features its very first Guest Post. My fellow Belizean Dr. Harold A. Young is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science & Public Management at Austin Peay State University, Tennessee.  Click on his name for a bio).

The 1981 Constitution of Belize and all subsequent amendments comprise the supreme law of the land. The Constitution of Belize follows closely the template of most former British colonies. A pillar of our Westminster parliamentary system is bicameral Legislature (House Representatives and Senate enshrined in Part VI, Articles 56 through 67). This essay focuses on one major issue: the need for more effective representation the House of Representatives, and a brief introduction to possible alternative frameworks for voting.

For those outside the constraints of political party politics, thinking about system changes is also challenging. First, the status quo, even if criticized, is known and feels comfortable. Second, it is hard to conceptualize alternatives and even harder envisioning any alternative system in place and working. Without being overly prescriptive as to how the status quo should be changed, it is helpful to introduce ourselves to broad electoral frameworks that could address what drives us crazy about the current representative system.… Read the rest...

Religion, the Constitution and Your Rights

By Dylan Vernon, Time Come #5, 8 February 2024.

During the usual ham and turkey handouts by politicians in December 2023, a different kind of X-mas gift made the news. Five days before X-mas, the Government of Belize and a grouping called the ‘Church Communities’ signed a 10-point Statement of Agreement that affirmed the preambular commitment to the ‘supremacy of God’ as a fundamental constitutional principle. The two parties also re-affirmed some of the religious freedoms stated in Part II of the Constitution of Belize. But the Agreement also went further. Apart from an insightful critique made by the always fearless Caleb Orozco, there was negligible public discussion about this development and its timing. What do we make of it? How does this relate to the current constitutional review process?

The Origins of the God Clause

Before addressing the Agreement, it’s useful to recall the constitutional history of the ‘supremacy of God’ clause and that of religious freedoms in the Constitution. As I noted in a previous Time Come post, the 1963 Self-Government Constitution did not have a substantive Preamble nor a section on human rights. The ‘supremacy of God’ phrase first appeared in clause (a) of the proposed Preamble in the White Paper on the Proposed Terms for the Independence Constitution of Belize, released in February 1981.… Read the rest...

Rock the Boat! Lessons from Past Constitutional Reform (Part 2)

By Dylan Vernon, Real Story #7, 28 January 2024.

Few things rile Belize’s two main political parties more than being labeled PUDP – Belize’s version of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. It grates red and blue nerves raw not only because being perceived as different is the backbone of the partisan game, but also because the truth stings. The petty, personal and often vicious ways the People’s United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP) attack each other are mostly tactics to mask the truth that not much really separates them in ideology, policies and electoral practices in post-independence Belize. Both compete largely as center-right ‘handout’ machines. Both have encouraged voters to ‘tek di money but vote dem out’. Both get voted out when the rot of corrupt ‘feeding’ swings the pendulum to the other side. The list of commonalities is long. But is the issue of constitutional reform on it?

Basically On the Same Page

At the systemic level, constitutional reform is certainly on that PUDP list. By that I don’t mean similarities on the quantity of constitutional amendment acts passed when the parties are in power. On the surface, the record shows numeric parity: of the ten constitutional amendment acts since 1981, five have come under PUP governments and five under UDP governments – even as the PUP deserves credit for establishing both major constitutional commissions since independence.… Read the rest...