Important Note: This Internet version of 7 News is a verbatum
transcript of our evening television news script. Many interviews on our newscast
are conducted in Creole. In the interest of clarity for our foreign readers,
we attempt to paraphrase the Creole quotes in English
Today was the last House Meeting for the parliamentary year, and usually it's an easy day, all sweetness and light, as niceties and Christmas wishes are exchanged across the floor, a rare touch of grace in an often venomous setting. But today there was no lightness at the house meeting. The National Trade Union Congress of Belize set the tone early with a planned disruption. It happened half hour into the meeting when a group of about a dozen unionists, stood up in the gallery and started chanting, "Introduce the Occupational Safety and Health bill now!"
They were quickly shut down and shown out, but it was a rare rush of action in the otherwise staid proceedings:...
Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "Remove those people."
Chanting; "Introduce the Occupational Safety and Health Bill."
Jules Vasquez "Mr. President of the NTUCB, what was that about?"
Dylan Reneau, President, N.T.U.C.B. "We have had the Occupational Safety and Health Bill in front of Cabinet for some time now. In fact the Prime Minister and the Minister of Labour has promised the NTUCB and we have it on tape; they've promise to introduce that bill and pass the Occupational Safety and Health Bill and we've seen bills come after our bill and get pass through the House and so we had to make a very strong statement. This is just the first step because as we said for our Annual General Meeting the year 2014 will be the year of the workers and the year of action."
Jules Vasquez "Explain why has it been frustrating in system so long? I remember the very demonstrative statement you all put out which apparently had no effect. Why is it languishing?"
Dylan Reneau, President, N.T.U.C.B. "We would want the Prime Minister to respond to that because all the work has been done, the social partners agreed to the legislation. Why has it not moved?"
Jules Vasquez "We know that the NTUCB typically sends out releases, tries to arrange meetings with the government, that sort of thing."
Marvin Mora, Second Vice-President, N.T.U.C.B. "I think the president was very clear about it. It's a signal that 2014, we mean business; we are not here to play."
Jules Vasquez "You think you got the Prime Minister's attention, president?"
Dylan Reneau, President, N.T.U.C.B. "I think we did get his attention and we also wanted to get the nation's attention and I am telling you in 2014 there will be much more activism on the part of NTUCB."
"We've been disrespected time and time again and so enough is enough. You could say that we were the ones that put this government into power because we are the workers that vote and we wanted a change. Basically we were promised that our issues would have been dealt with and nothing had been dealt with substantially and so enough is enough. We have to take a very strong stand."
Jules Vasquez "You've disrupted the House Meeting, when you say action in 2014; do you all intend to be disruptive in 2014?"
Marvin Mora, Second Vice-President, N.T.U.C.B. "I think you remember the current Prime Minister stating that there was a time for civil disobedience, we hope that that doesn't reach to that stage. But if it does NTUCB will be ready."
The occupational health and safety bill deals with worker safety and compensation and it seeks to update antiquated laws.
And while the unions made their statement early, and left right after, the PUP member for Cayo South, Julius Espat made his at the every end of the meeting. Espat rose to speak on the adjournment which has to be a matter of public interest. He chose the very general subject of social justice, and the speaker Michael Peyrefitte tried to pin him down to one subject - as is required by the standing orders. Still, Espat proceeded with a wide elliptical statement, and the speaker kept trying to bring him back to a single point. Eventually, things came to a head - and that ended with a brief suspension and a PUP walkout. Here's how it all started:..
Hon. Julius Espat "The issue is social justice Mr. Speaker."
Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "Which one of those 3?"
Hon. Julius Espat "It's all Mr. Speaker, it's embodied in one."
Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "You are allowed only one. Pick one."
Hon. Julius Espat "Thank you."
Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "Member I will ask you to stop."
Hon. Julius Espat "Mr. Speaker, the people want their representative to speak on their behalf."
Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "The people of Belize would like their members to follow the standing orders in the House. Pick one, member. Why do you want to start a fight at the end of the day like this?"
Hon. Julius Espat "I am not fighting. You are not being fair. This is the Christmas season and we are asking you to be fair."
Michael Peyrefitte, Speaker of the House "Member, you can call a public meeting and you can read a hundred pages to your heart's content. There are rules in the National Assembly that you must follow. I think you are just trying to be difficult."
Hon. Julius Espat "No, I am trying to represent the people who put me here. That's what I am doing and if that is wrong Mr. Speaker, then the system is wrong. We have to change the system of governance to be able to provide for true social justice, not turkey and ham social justice."
"The Prime Minister has two options and that is; 1.) to make the honorable and correct decisions which is basically to follow his 2008 manifesto and give this nation the reform that is drastically needed or the second option; to continue to turn a blind eye on human trafficking which is being manage by members of his cabinet."
Michael Peyrefitte "Member, listen I've made a decision. I want you to end your speech now. Under the standing orders, I ask of you to end your speech now. Member that was the last straw about human trafficking by…member I officially suspend this member for the rest of the day's sitting. I give you five minutes to leave, sir. If you don't leave I'll ask the officers to have you leave."
Jules Vasquez "What happened? Usually these meetings finished in an air of buoyancy and good wishing."
Julius Espat "That's the problem, that everybody wants the Christmas cheer and Santa to take away the problems that we have a as a country. It was clear in there that the government does not want true discussion. The Speaker of the House was erroneous; he is not an elected member. He is a failed UDP aspirant. I am an elected member and I should be given the right to speak and I wasn't offending anybody, I wasn't insulting anybody and that is what you are seeing there."
Jules Vasquez "He said that you were straying from the subject speaking on too broad a matter making broad allegations. That's what he said."
Julius Espat "And isn't good governance and accountability enough. That's the problem we are facing. The visa hustle is about a accountability. The passport sale is about accountability. The un-equitable distribution of funds is about accountability. Everything I spoke about is about accountability. The problem is that I am speaking the truth and the truth hurts and they can't handle the truth."
Jules Vasquez "You and the Speaker have had discussions on the side before because you and he have had many conflicts previously."
Julius Espat "We are alright. He is trying to defend his government and I am defending the people of Belize. It's clear, the line is drawn."
Jules Vasquez "So now will you seek reproach with him to try and...?"
Julius Espat "I could shake his hand right now. This is not personal for me. I am here to do a job and probably he is there to do his job which is to defend his government. Remember he was appointed by them. That is something we need to change; the Speaker of the House should be a person that is to be approved by both sides, so we don't have this kind of problems. But I can't speak ill of him for doing his job. He was appointed by the Prime Minister."
Jules Vasquez "But he is to do his job with equity."
Julius Espat "He is doing it with equity?"
Jules Vasquez "I cannot judge. I am not a member of the House."
Julius Espat "I am saying he is not because if you go back to the files and listen to what I said. If I did anything to offend anybody and anything that is not the truth then I would say that I was doing something erroneous and I would step back."
Jules Vasquez "You accused members of the House of hustling. That's unparliamentarily language."
Julius Espat "They are hustling. This is like Animal Farm; they are better than you and that's why they are not being investigated. The fact is they are hustling."
Jules Vasquez "In the parliament of any country that is unparliamentarily language though. You can't say a member is hustling."
Julius Espat "I said it."
Jules Vasquez "And you were discipline for it."
Julius Espat "And I was and I will take my lashing and I have."
And the UDP Party Whip Michael Finnegan, a senior parliamentarian was quick to scold Espat. Now, you might rightly say Finnegan should be the last to scold anyone about house behavior; recently he had to apologize to house members for an off colour remark made to the only female member of the house. But, still, he took the high road today:..
Hon. Michael Finnegan "There are rules that govern the House. The member has to behave within the scope of the rules that governs the House. If there are not rules, then there would be chaos and that is why the white man put rules into place so that we don't behave in a chaotic atmosphere."
Jules Vasquez "However, in fairness, you would know well, that you are one of the people who operate under the mic for the whole House Meeting and heckle the other side quite audibly."
Hon. Michael Finnegan "That is a part of the rule."
Jules Vasquez "That is not in any rule."
Hon. Michael Finnegan "That is a part of parliamentary democracy. We are not in a church. When you come to the House of Representatives, you don't come to a church."
And there's more coming from today's house meeting - as we get to the actual legislative business of the meeting, which included passage of the Rape Bill, also known as Amendment 2 to the Criminal Code.
Staff Sergeant Abimael Carrillo, a BDF Soldier with 18 years of service in the military died this morning in a traffic accident a short distance away from the BDF Price Barracks compound.
Carrillo was one of 2 passengers inside a grey Toyota Pickup, which was being driven by Juan Tuyub. He and BDF Soldier Severio Cowo were returning to the base at around 1:30 a.m., and when they turned off from the Northern Highway, the driver lost control of the vehicle. It flipped upside down in the culvert at the side of the road, which was filled with water from the recent rains this week. All 4 wheels were suspended, upside down, and everyone was trapped inside the vehicle.
The other 2 men were rescued in time, but unfortunately, Carrillo was pulled out in an unconscious state. He was rushed to the BDF Medical Hospital and about an hour and a half later, he passed away.
The entire force joins with his family in mourning his lost, and today we got a chance to speak with an officer from BDF, who explained what information they had:
Major Thomas Cal - Belize Defence Force "The incident occurred right at the junction of the Phillip Goldson Highway and Price Barracks, Ladyville. According to the information we got, the vehicle somehow ended up in a drain right next to the highway. It was flipped over with the wheels up in the air. The two occupants of the vehicle were trapped inside the vehicle. The occupants of the vehicle were not on duty, they were out there somewhere in Ladyville. They were actually on their return to camp."
"I also want to express thanks to the many civilians who were passing by and stopped to give aid along with several soldiers who quickly responded to the scenery and were there trying to recover the vehicle and personnel in the vehicle. As far as I was made to understand that when the body arrived here first at our medical center - and then shortly after that the body was rushed down to Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. As far as we know is that yes the person is dead, but the cause of it we are not too sure as yet."
"On behalf of the Commander of the Belize Defence Force Brigadier General David Jones and members of the Belize Defence Force on a whole, we are here expressing our condolences to the family of Mr. Abimael Carrillo who unfortunately in my view had an untimely death this morning."
As we've said, Carrillo has given 18 years of service, and at the time of his death he was the company quartermaster who kept stock of all equipment for the force. The BDF will grant him a military funeral in a sign of respect to his tenure.
And, we've have another accident to report on tonight, but fortunately, they were no fatalities - though it did create a monster rush hour traffic jam on the Northern Highway. It happened at around 4 o'clock this afternoon when a garbage truck for the Belize Waste Control slammed head on into a Haylock Bus on the foot of the Haulover Bridge.
The driver of the truck told 7News that his brakes failed him as he was approaching the bridge, and he lost control, causing him to end up into the lane of the bus. Here's how he described it:
Reporter "What is the situation here sir? I see that you are head-on with a Haylock bus."
Michael Sutherland, driver - Belize Waste Control "Yes sir and if you notice I am on the wrong lane. The reason is because my brakes failed me sir. That's an ugly feeling. You have to
experience it to know how it feels for you to expect your vehicle to stop when you apply the brake pedal and it doesn't."
Reporter "You were approaching the bridge?"
Michael Sutherland, driver - Belize Waste Control "I was coming and then there was a trailer truck in this area from Bowen and Bowen and there was another Bowen and Bowen truck behind it and some other vehicles. We were all coming down the highway behind each other on our lane. Any sensible driver would experience knows that you have to slow down when you approaching a bridge. When it was my turn to slow down when applying the brake my truck doesn't stop."
7News understands that persons were rushed to the KHMH after the accident, but we haven't been able to confirm the extent of injuries they suffered.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the former Vice-President of Oceana in Belize, and a practicing attorney at law, is poised to become the next President of the Christian Workers Union. Current Executive Members Antonio Gonzalez and James McFoy will step aside and allow a new executive to be elected, which will include Matura-Shepherd at the helm.
As we've told you, in October, the NTUCB expelled the CWU after they tried to oversee a general congress meeting which failed to elect new executives, which was organized by outspoken stevedore Deon Pittah, who offered himself as a president.
Well, Pittah and CWU firebrand Raymond Rivers have backed Audrey Matura-Shepherd as their new candidate, who's reportedly gotten the support of the general membership.
Today, all parties who have been divided since the Stevedores moved against Gonzalez held a joint press conference to announce the decision. Gonzalez and McFoy will have a relatively graceful exit, and Matura-Shepherd will be endorsed as the new President on Saturday during a special convention to elect a new executive. Here's how they explained it:
Basil Brannon, Representative - Central bank of Belize "We did a survey and everybody unanimously wants her to be our president. She will not run because there is no other person with her."
Audrey Matura-Shepherd - Aspiring President - CWU "Every member of the executive is being removed and there is a whole new executive coming on board. Even existing ones, if they want to be re-elected they had to be re-nominated. When they put out the call for nomination for the presidency there were no other nominations. Of course they also informed the membership that one of the persons that they had been looking at was I. It took a long while for me to answer that, but because there was absolutely no challenge to the office, it will be an endorsement on Saturday."
Antonio Gonzalez, Outgoing President - CWU "On Saturday, having this special convention to elect new officers, I really hope that and I echoed some of the sentiments and words of sister Matura that we need strong people within the leadership of the Christian Workers Union."
James McFoy, Outgoing General Secretary - CWU "I will beforehand congratulate who will be the new executive and Mrs. Matura, its sounds like you will be the president."
Deon Pitter. Member - CWU "I won't lament any more on the negative. It's the way forward with our champion. I feel irie with things, but I won't keep my eyes close no more. I will pay attention to my business to the max."
Raymond Rivers, Member - CWU "People say that we are rowdy, we this and we that, but at the end of the day we (the Belizean people) could move from the Prime Minister of Belize if we wanted to."
Antonio Gonzalez, Outgoing President - CWU "I will continue to also champion the rights of workers regardless of not being within the union."
Audrey Matura-Shepherd - Aspiring President - CWU "I told them that I am prepared to serve for one term, I do not believe in holding on to an office forever because you become complacent, you become so complacent; you don't become accountable. It becomes about you and not about the job."
The convention will be held at St. Mary Hall in Belize City from 8:30 a.m. to 12 midday on Saturday. The membership of the Union is being called on to make representation and vote for their executives.
The Rape Bill, also known as Amendment 2 to the Criminal Code was brought back to the House of Representatives today. The bill was first introduced in September, but ran into a firestorm of protest when Christian activists alleged that the hidden agenda was to de-criminalise sodomy. So the bill went through a rigorous round of consultations – and today it was brought back to the house for second and third readings, and final passage.
Three new pieces of Immigration legislation were also passed today. They are the Immigration Amendment Bill, the Belizean Nationality Amendment Bill and the Passport Amendment Bill. These new laws seek to tighten up immigration regulations, improve oversight of the issuance of passports and visas and dramatically increase fines for those who violate the laws. All in all, it’s an attempt to put an end to the passport and visa racket, which has been ongoing in one way or another for at least two decades.
Last night we told you about the 58 year old female cruise tourist who died in a snorkeling incident. She was on a Chukka tour, and the incident has caused FECTAB to stir. As is well known, FECTAB has been on a scorched earth campaign against their competitor Chukka and the group is now seizing on this opportunity to pressure and embarrass the tour operator. A FECTAB release refers to says a number of guest incidents in just a week, quote, "questions the quality and safety of tours being carried out by Chukka Belize for Carnival booked tours." End quote.
FECTAB says price wars with local operators has resulted in Chukka choosing QUANTITY over QUALITY.
FECTAB laments that the recent incidents have given the tourism industry in Belize an international black eye.
AT newstime, Chukka had promised but not released a statement.
Last night, 7News told you about the officers who have been criminally charged for brazenly shaking down Thyrel Hyde at an ATM, an incident which was caught on camera. 42 year-old Police Corporal Reymundo Requena and 30 year-old Police Constable Edgar Teul, who are officers attached to the Belama Police Station, were arraigned before Magistrate Clive Lino yesterday.
Police are looking for 2 more officers who will also be charged, but for Hyde, this new development adds more credibility to his story, and today, when we caught up with him in Belmopan, and he said, it about time:
Both officers have met bail of $4,000, and they must return to court on February 11, 2014.
Today, 30 teachers chosen from around the country, and the Edward P. Yorke High School got a Christmas gift from the Taiwanese Embassy in Belize, which is seeking to enrich the lives of Belize with an ICT powered education.
That gift came in the form of 60 ASUS Tablet Computers which were distributed to the deserving teachers with the help of Restore Belize and the Ministry of Education, who hand-picked them.
Today, the tablets were handed over at the ITVET, and 7News attended. Here's what the Ambassador told us about the significance:
The other 30 tablet computers which were donated to the E.P. Yorke High School will be used to establish a Digital Learning Center.
As we told you on Tuesday, the tourism board took the media on a familiarization trip over last weekend. It's an opportunity often afforded to international travel writers, to let them tell the story of Belize to the wider world. But BTB also wants to do it locally, to encourage you to - as the saying goes - be a tourist in your own country. I participated and was surprised by how charming my own city can look to a visitor. Here's my tour:..
Tonight's I am Belize profile is the last one for the year and it is a little different. It features six young poets and their voices, their art provides a compelling voice for the young Belizean male. You'll want to hear what they have to say:..
As we said that is the last profile for 2013, and in 2014, the profile will feature e teachers who have inspired their students to learn in innovative ways.
Lynn Young, former CEO of Belize Electricity Limited, will replace Chairman John Woods at the head of the Board of Directors of the Kolbe Foundation, the organization which runs the Belize Central Prison.
Woods formally resigned as Chairman after ten years in the job, but in a special resolution passed by the board on Tuesday, he remains on the board as Member Emeritus.
Young currently holds the office the office of President and CEO of BECOL, and he is also current President of the Rotary Club of Belize. He is better known, however, as the former President and CEO of the country's electricity company. He held those positions before the Barrow Administration nationalized the company and took over management from Fortis.