There were several significant issues on the Senate table Wednesday, the first substantive sitting of that body post-election. The Revenue Appropriation Bill, seeking approval for the spending of $44.7M from October to December 2015, was the source of contentious and passionate debate, and so was a motion brought by Opposition Senator Lisa Shoman for a Senate inquiry into the procuring of Belizean nationality and other documents by Mexican-American fugitive David Nanes Schnitzer.
Shoman requested divisions for both issues. Not surprisingly, the Appropriations Bill was approved by a margin of 7-4, while the inquiry motion was defeated by a margin of 6-5.
The Appropriations Bill was tabled in the House last Friday, and in keeping with the law governing the Petrocaribe Instrument, GOB spends the money first and then seeks approval later. That makes for excellent political fodder, especially when the latest Bill seeks approval for the spending of $44.7M smack in the middle of election season.
Senator Mark Lizarraga, representing the private sector, took issue with the scanty information provided in the description of the spending, saying:
“We don’t know what it is that any of this has been spent on. Today we are being asked to approve $44.7 million. How can we know what was spent and on what projects Mr. President?”
That has been a constant cry at every Senate session, primarily from the outspoken Lizarraga and the three Senators representing the Opposition. But for the Senators representing the government, the stance is markedly different. Newly appointed Senator Macario Coy, in his first appearance in that chamber, in response to Lizarraga stated that “I can say and I can assure all of us here Mr. President, that this country is enjoying the benefits of this government.”
The debate on the motion for an inquiry into the Nanes matter was much of the same. When Nanes was apprehended with the help of US Marshalls, he was found with every form of Belizean ID possible, including a passport and nationality document. All were issued in the name of David Banes. Senator Shoman has requested that Immigration personnel, including the Director, be brought in for questioning into the debacle which has even been roundly condemned by Prime Minister Dean Barrow. But it was not to be.
Senator for the Government Steve Duncan, in his presentation claimed that the request for an inquiry was premature and jumping the gun. Interestingly, he claimed that what might be perceived as corruption in Belize would probably be termed just a mistake in other countries. His colleague on that side, attorney Aldo Salazar was in agreement, stating that he has seen no perceptible public outcry which would warrant any inquiry into the matter.
Despite a spirited debate by the Opposition, the motion was defeated. All government Senators rejected it, while Opposition senators and representatives for the private sector and church were in support.
While it did not inspire heated debate, the Senate also ratified 13 bi-lateral agreements between Belize and Guatemala which had been pending for some time.