REPORT #9 1998

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

(Political Education and Action is part of the Community Development aspects of the Trust Memorandum. The Memorandum essentials are on line.)

**** Referendum examples and petitions used as checks and balances.

In Belize we have issued several booklets on Civics and Government sent to high schools and on this Belize List here and through the media have explored many different ideas of democracy using various forms of checks and balances and controls on centralized policy making. This evening's Florida News had something relevant to students within the Central American country of Belize along this line. You can draw your own conclusions. The comparison of methods and the work that those from the Valley of Peace Villages are doing, to draw up some local government legislation should take note.

It was announced on the evening news, that the City of Coral Gables, Florida, elected City Council were at odds with some policy decision making with some local resident city voters.

One has to understand the background of this dispute. The City of Coral Gables lies inside Dade County and is only one city of many in a very large metropolitan area. The city is famous for many years for it's low buildings, non commercialization, double laned boulevards and arches of shade trees. A house in Coral Gables sells for triple anywhere else in Dade County, all things being equal. Property taxes are high. The city is wealthy. The down town area is about a four block strip and the only really huge buildings are some Victorian age old massive hotels. One in the down town area and one where USA Presidents stay, in a rural setting of golf courses. This latter has a swimming pool so big you can hold canoe races on it, in the basement.

The Coral Gables elected officials for the City Council just approved building construction permits for a new multi-storied edifice covering two acres.

Some residents objected that this would ruin the ambience and atmosphere of the City of Coral Gables and they do not want large buildings and commercialization within their city. The City Councilors say they were elected to make such decisions and are doing so in the interest of the city finances.

Here is where democracy in south Florida and democracy in the country of Belize differ. We shall draw a comparison with Orange Walk Town, or the port Belize City on the coast of Belize, Central America.

The complaining residents in Coral Gables, Florida, had the legal machinery to collect a petition. They got enough signatures and now a Referendum must be called on this decision making of the City Council. The Referendum is calling for the voters of the City of Coral Gables to pass a law limiting the size of construction permits the Councilors government can issue, to one acre in size with some kind of upper floor limitation. The City Council is saying vote to give the elected officials the right to such decisions and the petition makers are saying vote to limit the ability of Councilors as to size and height of buildings within the city.

In the country of Belize, no such checks and balances occur. Neither for resident voters in a town, village or city, nor even at the national level. Belize with it's Westminster system, essentially has a democratically elected dictatorship with a rubber stamp legislature and policy making is done by decree by another name. The sea front area of public parks in the port city of Belize and along the river through the town have been sold off by an absentee colonial style government in the capital of the country, to commercial interests. The City Council do not have any method of controlling land for parks and such, nor for fighting the nation's centralized government system. Nor do the city resident voters have any similar democratic method to make petitions and call for referendums, or plebiscites against either the wishes of their own City Council, or the centralized government in Belmopan under the Westminster system style Constitution.

When considering political reform and revision of the Belize Constitution, or construction of local government legislation, the provision of checks and balances, the use of petitions for finding the real desires of the voters in any given geographical area should be a priority. This example of what is happening on the evening news with the City of Coral Gables, Florida is a good example of democracy at work. Would that you could design similar controls into the system of governments within Belize.

Just think about it and what you want for the future. More of the same style dictatorship, or some checks and balances of real democracy voter controlling policy making ability. There should be legal provision for dissenters to voice their opinion and call for a vote on policies. Do you agree? If you do, what will you do about it?

Back to Main Belize Development Trust Page

Maintained by Ray Auxillou, Silvia Pinzon, MLS, and Marty Casado. Please email with suggestions or additions for this Electronic Library of Belize.