At the sitting of the House of Representatives today, members engaged in the first portion of a two-day debate over the contents of the 2022-2023 Draft Estimates of Revenue and Expenditure, a 1.3-billion-dollar budget that, according to the Briceño administration, includes the provision of free education in four southside high schools and an adjustment of the minimum wage by mid-year. These initiatives and other aspects of the budget were debated only briefly between the members of the current administration and the Opposition members on the other side of the House before the exchange between the two sides got out of control and resulted in the Speaker of the House, Valerie Woods,having to clap to get the attention of members while herself standing as certain members of the House remained on their feet— an act of disrespect to the post of Speaker and an infringement on the Standing Orders of the House.
The back and forth which led to a temporary suspension of the House began during a presentation by the Fort George area representative, Hon. Henry Charles Usher.
Usher, during his address to the House, stated, “Just last night on the news he [the current Leader of the Opposition, Moses “Shyne” Barrow] named a who’s who of worthless UDP characters that he has surrounded himself with…” By this time, Barrow, the area representative for the Mesopotamia constituency, returned to the chamber to invoke a standing order in an attempt to put an end to Usher’s verbal attack.
“Mr. Speaker, the member from Fort George needs to stick to the budget…trying to eviscerate me with personal attacks is not a part of the debate,” Barrow said.
At the time, Marconi Leal, the area representative of Belize Rural Central and Deputy Speaker of the House, was filling in for Speaker Woods, and cautioned Minister Henry Charles Usher to avoid the personal attacks and stick to the contents of the budget — but the accusations continued, and soon after, Speaker Woods returned, only to find the House in chaos.
“He needs to go and find and bring back Rene Montero so that Rene Montero could face the music. If you are serious about it, then you need to do that,…,” Minister Usher further quipped. Barrow replied, “You need to bring your father, to face justice for stealing 20 million dollars.”
The Speaker of the House had not even taken her seat, and indeed was still standing when Prime Minister John Briceno rose, not on a point of order, but to demand that Barrow “pull back” what he said. He remained standing, despite the fact that the Speaker was still on her feet. “Members, I just walked into this chamber,” Speaker Woods said as she took her seat. The infringement on the Standing Orders would continue to be seen as the verbal melee went on.
“If I point out, Madam Speaker, since you just stepped in, he just accused the former Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Said Musa, about stealing 20 million dollars; that’s what he said just now, so I am demanding that he takes that statement back.” PM Briceno said.
Barrow replied, “The former prime minister was arrested and accused in a court of law for stealing 20 million dollars.…” Briceno responded, “On trumped-up charges that your father did!”
By this time, Speaker Woods had to raise her voice before the Leader of the Opposition took his seat, and both sides continued to cast aspersions at each other.
Barrow shouted , “Unu da the biggest thief…”, which prompted Speaker Woods to caution him. “Leader of the Opposition…,” she said, but before her words were fully out of her mouth, the area repesentative of Orange Walk South, Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai, retorted, “and you da wa criminal….”
Speaker Woods then exclaimed, “ Macebearer, I am calling you to attention! Members! Members! Leader of the Opposition, I am going to have to ask you to take that back.”
Initially, Barrow refused to withdraw his statement, and the sitting was suspended so that the House speakers could view the recording of what transpired. When she returned, she ordered both Barrow and Mai to withdraw the statements made during the heated exchange. Both did so reluctantly.
Woods stated, following a review of the recording, “In my absence, the Deputy Speaker cautioned about personal attacks. I have cautioned before about personal attacks. I have signalled to the macebearer that we will proceed with today’s sitting and that of tomorrow.
On the Opposition side of the House, only Barrow and Hon. Tracy Taegar Panton were present for the debate.
“I also wanted to remind members and really ask for your support on both sides. We do have what they call political whips for both sides, but to kindly work with members for those who do not attend House meetings; that’s’ standing order 84. The office of the clerk really ought to be notified.
The sitting continues tomorrow at 9:00 a.m. We will have details of the budget estimates in the Tuesday issue of the AMANDALA following the conclusion of the debate.