REPORT #46 Feb 1999

Produced by the Belize Development Trust
Bearing in mind that I am uneducated in these matters, but have a wide experience from many countries, the following thoughts should be put into context.

The Town Act Bill brings to mind the lack of experience and education at Belmopan and Political Party level for legal systems. While the PUP party fairly new in power is doing a lot of very worthwhile things to get the economy going and it is all needed and excellent work. The fundamental misunderstandings and experience rears it's head with the presentation of the Town Act Bill, which was supposed to be a model of autonomy and dec-centralization, in line with the recommendations of many international agencies. This in fact was a piece of rushed sloppy work and showed that the basic fundermental understandings of consensus style participatory democracy is not understood at the political party level and in the Belmopan bureaucracy. It was almost a perfect presentation of colonial empire building representative style-psuedo sham democracy.

Taking the Justice sysem as part of this bill and participatory democracy and as a piece of machinery to provide the gears between a national government and local governments. This set of gears, cogs and wheels is entirely misintrepreted and missing in this Town Act Bill.

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land and supposed to be the place for people to go, when they are disatisfied with the lower courts actions and decisions. It is not, as presently used, supposed to be a place for run of the mill court cases. It is that, because in a much smaller society of 50 years ago, during colonial times, it was all that was necessary. The Supreme Court needs to be re-defined and set apart from the establishment of other court systems throughout the country. The Supreme Court needs to be taken out of the port Belize City and placed in the environment of the capital of the country in Belmopan. It should be the court of last resort, not dealing with day to day criminal cases. In this function, the imported appointed contract judges are fine, to settle the arguments of lower courts. Population has grown in the nation and it will grow more. The purpose and function of the Supreme Court has changed.

Next in line are the establishment of community courts, probably held in Community Centers in more informal situations, like the western states of Arizona, in the USA. The national flag, a desk and some chairs is all that is needed. The problems with local community ordinances that are passed, need to be addressed by village or town courts, with an elected judge from the community. Since these cases most often are very simple in context, the community will decide who is fair and impartial when judging such simple cases. For the most part, many of these cases will be decided right in the community. Many of them will not require jail time, but fines, and community service. When participants disagree, there should be provision to go to the District Court, which will review and decide things on the next level. Should this be unsatisfactory, then such cases will go to the Supreme Court, which hopefully will be moved to Belmopan. Even at District level in such a small country, the District Judge is a part time judge, and should be some person, probably respected by the voters in the district, usually with a business to run. This person too, should be elected. Representative of the mores, morals and desires of the local geographical area and intimately knowledgeable with the constitutents. What we should not do, is appoint Justices of the Peace, as local judges. These are central government agents and in England, they hung a lot of people in the name of the monarchy in past centuries. You need elected judges at lower level courts. The technical arguments of lawyers will not be so effective here. You want justice that is sane and common sense fitting the mood and morals of the local community.

To catch people and fine them with tickets, or bring up nuisance minor charges, you require an elected community policeman. Someone responsible to the voters of the community, not an absentee national government machine. Such an elected policeman, who is elected every two years, would hire if the town is large enough, other policemen who are not elected, for longer terms, say three year contracts. So they overlap elected police chiefs. Most communities in Belize only require one part time elected policeman, who will have another job, or business. That is the way I remember it in village Canada of yesteryear. The national police force would shrink and become more specialist, to add it's specialist teams weight wherever needed around the country.

None of these things were presented in the Town Act Bill and one could see that the concepts of participatory democracy and autonomy were actually unknown and foreign subjects to the understandings of the people who wrote it.

The wheels of justice, the machinery how it is implemented are all serious parts of any Town Act Bill for autonomy. They are missing from this Bill. The centrist, monarchist systems of yesteryear in which cabinet ministers ( who are not elected as ministers, but cronies in a clique of a political party ) have an interference level with districts and towns and villages, need to go. To bring participatory democracy, fair justice and consensus to Belize the nation, we need the cogs and wheels of the machinery of justice re-organized along more autonomous lines, independent of central national government political affairs. Any differences between the goals of a central government and political party minister, should be by contract and taken to the courts, not dictated as in the present system. This in turn forces those bureaucrats and political party cabinet ministers to reconsider and reorganize the way that subventions, grants, and public works and the money to pay for them will be administered in this country of Belize at lower levels. By contracts, outright grants ( subventions ), matching grants ( contracts with restriction clauses ) and other means. The nation is growing, it is time to re-structure the apparatus of government for the future along "particpatory democratic" lines and not continue this centrist monarchist poor performing system we currently have. This means, education by the Colleges in Civics and Government of other places and how they function as part of the curriculum. It is obvious the lack of comprehension and ideas currently held by all and sundry, when reviewing this Town Act Bill.

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