election reform and progressive democracies
General electoral reform
- electoral reform terms - how to talk about the problem
- Belize: The Best Political PlatformBelize: The Best Political Platform
- Proportional Representation in Ireland - Proinsias Mac AonghusaIreland: Proportional Representation in Ireland - Proinsias Mac Aonghusa
- BSTV+C+L, a carefully balanced system combining mostly STV and some MMP seats
- voting system values
- the frustrated voter
- vote swapping
[Belize: The Best Political Platform (Jun 2007)]
Introduction – The following document (The Best Political Platform) was prepared from input from a group of many contributors comprised primarily of Belizeans and those interested in Belize. It was edited and promulgated through both the Belize Culture and Polisci web based user lists. This was prepared in the hope that all political parties in Belize would adopt most or all of these ideas in their own manifesto (or political platform) in upcoming elections. The concepts are not meant to be in support of or against any political party. Some of the planks described below may already be addressed to some degree by certain existing laws in Belize. However, the purpose in listing these concepts is that they show where improvements in these laws can be made or better enforced. They therefore show what should be important to the political party in the process of making reforms to the constitution and laws of Belize in the future. It is also hoped that this platform will serve as a mechanism to initiate public discussions that will lead to improvements in these planks. This document is for public information and there is no copyright claimed. It is hoped that any additions or deletions to this document will be so marked to show the clear difference between any new version and the original document.
THE BEST POLITICAL PLATFORM
The platform of this party shall include the following provisions. The party shall insure that these provisions are enacted into law as soon as practical after entering into office. A public quarterly report on the progress made to fully enact and enforce these changes will be made throughout this party's administration.
Plank No. 1 - Granting of Powers to Local Government
Whereas, it is recognized by this party that local town and village government is considered as being superior to federal regulation in dealing with certain local village matters, and Whereas, each town or village is recognized as having different standards and needs for the provision of certain services, and Whereas, the ability of the GOB to finance and provide all services to local towns and villages from funding sources available to the GOB is very limited, this party will insure if elected into office that:
1) Local towns and villages will be allowed to petition for incorporation by Charter from the GOB, to be responsible for raising local taxes and fees, if required, in the provision of certain services including but not limited to road and drainage maintenance, utilities, telecommunication services, solid waste services, local police services, and certain other services as may be petitioned by the local town or village.
2) Decisions concerning the quality of service and the administration of such services, including setting fees and taxes for chartered services, will be totally the responsibility of the local elected town council with no oversight or determinations by Ministries of the GOB being required.
3) That the GOB will work with local towns and villages to the extent possible in grant assistance and other cooperation between the town and GOB.
4) That in order to petition the GOB for a town Charter, that a minimum of 51% of local registered voters must petition the GOB for a Charter through the local town or village council.
5) That all local town and village elections will be nonpartisan in nature and any participation by any recognized party will be specifically prohibited by law.
6) That local Towns and Villages will have the specific authority to regulate the use of land through zoning and land use designations through the use of appropriate planning principals and through public participation in the development of such land use regulations.
7) All Chartered Towns and Villages shall be required to operate with a balanced budget each year with an audit of all accounts performed by professional auditors on an annual basis.
Plank No. 2 - New Requirements of Elected Officials
Whereas, it is recognized by this party that holding public office is a public trust granted by the general public, and Whereas, the appearance of wrong doing can result in the loss of trust in government officials, and Whereas, holding public office requires 100% of available time dedicated to the office held, this party will insure if elected to office that:
1) Declaration of Assets - A law shall be passed requiring that all people running for public office at the national or local Town and Village level shall declare to the public, in a form to be determined, all assets and interest held in any and all businesses both within Belize and in other countries. The candidate shall also make public their prior year's income tax statement. Discovery of assets not declared shall result in the immediate termination from office.
2A) Business Interests During the Term of Office - During the term of office, the elected official (at the national level), shall not participate in any private business operations directly or indirectly including attending any meeting concerning the business, presence in the office of any personally owned business, work of any kind for the business(s) or government contracting that would lend favor to any personally owned business or business of any relative. Local Town and Village elected officials may hold public office and continue in their normal business, however, anytime a vote of the council relates to any business or personal interest of the local Town or Village official, that official will withdraw from voting on or discussing the issue. Failure to comply with these requirements shall result in the immediate termination from office.
2B) Any lawyer or other professional who is elected to office (at the national level) shall immediately assign all work load to associates of the firm or other companies and cease and desist from any work representing any past, current, or future client, until such time as the term of office is over. Any lawyer or other professional who is elected to local Town or Village Mayor or Council Member may continue their practice, however that official will withdraw from voting on or discussing any issue that relates to personal or family business and other similar interests. Failure to comply with this provision in the proposed law shall result in immediate termination from office.
3) Campaign Finance Reform - In order to improve the public confidence and reduce the excessive influence of individuals or corporations in the election process for national and local elections, this party shall pass laws that will (a) require the maximum contribution of any individual or corporation (including the candidate themselves) to any one candidate for office (including the party of the candidate) a maximum contribution of $1,000 BZ for each election campaign, and (b) all contributions shall be kept in the records of the candidate and such records shall be available as public information within 7 days of the contribution. After the day of the election, no contributions will be allowed in any amount to any successful or unsuccessful candidate until a formal announcement is made that the candidate will run for the same or another elected office in the next election cycle. Failure to comply with these requirements will result in the immediate termination from that elected office. Nothing in this law shall be intended to limit the reporting by news media on the status of the election process, news articles reflecting the opinions of individuals or editors of the papers, public meetings, or other forms of communication including the use of the internet for public information. Political advertisements in the form of ads in various print media, ads on TV or other visual media forms shall be paid for by the same fees as other similar forms of advertisement. All advertisements shall be paid for from funds collected and reported as described above.
4) Term Limits – This party shall support the concept of term limits for certain elected offices including the office of Prime Minister, Senator, and certain other offices to be determined. The term of office shall be for 4 years and each person shall hold the elected office for no more than 2 terms. It shall also be the policy of this party to hold regularly scheduled elections to properly implement the concept of term limits, hold down the cost of elections, and allow for proper planning for elections.
Plank No. 3 : Implementing the Political Reform Commission Recommendations
Whereas the final report of the Political Reform Commission contained several recommendations that have not been totally implemented to date, and Whereas there continues to be a lack of accountability of elected and public officials, this party pledges to enact or revise legislation to fully and effectively implement the following recommendations from the 2000 Final Report of The Political Reform Commission:
1) Statutory Instruments - This party recommends that the use of the Statutory Instrument mechanism be further regulated by: (a) curtailing the enabling power of Ministers to legislate by reducing legislation that gives this power; (b) Making it mandatory for all statutory instruments to go to the House of Representatives for ratification at the next sitting of the House.
2) Public Debt - This party recommends that: (a) provision be made for all details of all loans made to the Government of Belize to be published in the Government Gazette; (b) The Government take measures to ensure that public debt as a proportion of national income is kept at a prudent level.
3) Government Contracts - This party recommends that the following measures be taken with regard to the process of awarding government contracts: (a) that the Constitution and relevant laws be amended to require the House of Representatives to approve the awarding of all contracts over $100,000, or to any one entity whose aggregate contract exceeds $100,000; (b) That internationally recognized standards for competitive public contracting be adopted by the Government through legislation such that there be public bidding process that is opened to the general public.
4) Auditor-General - To enhance the effectiveness and independence of the Office of the Auditor-General, this party agrees with the Commission that: (a) the Constitution be amended at section 109 of the Constitution to reform the appointment process so that the Auditor-General is appointed by the Governor-general acting on recommendation of the National Assembly contained in a resolution passed on that behalf; (b) the Auditor-General be required to have specific qualifications equivalent to that of a certified public accountant, and be an active member of the Institute of Certified Public Accountants; (c) Chapter IX, section 120 be so amended as to ensure that the budget for the Office of the Auditor-General is submitted directly to the House of Representatives and be given priority call on the Consolidated Revenue Fund; (d) the Public Accounts Committee of the House be the medium through which the Auditor-General communicates with the House; (e) the Finance and Audit Act be so reviewed with the aim of making amendments that increase, establish, and ensure the execution of penalties for (i) government auditors who disclose information on audit inquiries without proper authorization, and (ii) public officers and others who refuse to cooperate with the requests of the Auditor-General during annual audits; (f) the Public Services Commission delegate, as allowed by the Constitution, its authority of employment, promotion, and removal of staff of the Office of the Auditor-General Department to the Auditor-General; (g) provision be made for the development and implementation of penalties for failure to present audited national accounts to the House; (h) provision be made and resources be provided to allow the Auditor-General to contract the services of auditors outside of the public service to assist in the execution of the duties of the office; (i) amend section 120(b) of the Constitution to state that a report be submitted to the House by the Auditor-General whether or not the report is complete and, if not completed, the reasons why; (j) provision be made for the revision of the Finance and Audit Act to ensure compatibility with the Constitution; (k) Revise and consolidate the Financial Orders, Store Orders and Control of Public Expenditure regulations into one document.
5) Waiver of Fees - This party recommends that provision be made to: (a) require that all waivers suspending the legal requirement of any persons or organization to the payment of a particular fee or charge be done only by permission of a statutory instrument and that no waivers be allowed until such statutory instrument is passed by the House; (b) Ensure that all waivers of fees are published in the government gazette.
Plank No. 4 - Planning and Environmental Protection
Whereas the pristine environment of Belize is recognized to be one of its most important and valuable assets of Belize, and Whereas the protection of the environment is one of those unique roles best suited for government, and Whereas there are certain industries that present unique threats to the environment, and Whereas the GOB does not have the adequate capacity in place to monitor the Cruise ship or the oil industry, and Whereas local communities ought to have a greater say towards influencing land development, industry, and economic development opportunities that are undertaken in their communities:
1. A special business tax, placed on cruise ship companies and oil companies, shall be enacted to fully fund the regulation and management of the cruise ship and oil industries that are granted access to Belize. Such taxes shall be managed through a special fund and will be designated for the sole purpose of environmental protection and management programs.
2. Each district will be encouraged (but not required) to develop a 20 year General Plan. This plan shall be developed through the Strategic Planning Process with a broad range of stake holders. The plan shall be adopted by a majority of the Area Representatives including Mayors of Towns and Villages, and the leader of each Alcalde, who shall also form a permanent body whose approval will be required for major development projects affecting the district. A major project is defined as one that under current laws would require an environment impact assessment before being granted a license or permit. Funding for this planning process shall be provided for and included in the budget of the general government. Towns and Villages who opt for their own Charter shall provide their own local plan development with funding of the plan development by the General Government.
Plank No. 5 - Economic Development of Belize
Whereas it is recognized that the creation of job opportunities for all Belizeans is of significant priority for Belize, and Whereas it is of primary importance that the education of people match the economic job opportunities that will come to Belize in the future, and Whereas it is recognized that small businesses have the potential to provide significant economic development of Belize, and Whereas it is recognized that Belize operates in a competitive way with many countries of the world:
1) Cooperative Village Banking – This party supports the concept of "Cooperative Village Banking" where village and surrounding community residents combine their borrowing power to encourage lending of small business development funds for the development of small local individual owned business operations including farming, service shops, light manufacturing, and similar business ventures. These opportunities to finance the start of small local business shall be open equally to men and women and all ethnic and cultural backgrounds who are citizens of Belize. This party will pass laws to encourage and facilitate the start of new small business operations by the Belize Government and offer tax relief and other means to facilitate new business development. The Town or Village Council will act as the Board for the cooperative banking and shall approve loans and shall determine standards and types of businesses to be approved that will coordinate with local planning and economic development efforts.
2) Education and the Economy – Given the interlocking relationship between Education and Economic Development this party recognizes the critical importance of a viable educational system. The prior findings of the Education Commission will be honored and put into place in the elementary and secondary systems. Post secondary education will be brought under review and a Board with a majority seating of active business leaders will be created. This board will act with the authority to approve budget allocations, curriculum, all appointments, and the award of all publicly funded scholarships. The Department of Labor shall select five industry sectors and assign priority in terms of growth, balance of payments/cash flow, tax generation, employment impact, and include government operations as one of the five industry sectors. Starting with one sector the first year, education will add an additional sector each year for the subsequent four years meanwhile creating a full service curriculum with degrees proceeding through graduate programs as appropriate which will cover the spectrum of jobs in each sector. In all cases, the curriculum content will be developed via a DACUM type study led by SME’s (subject matter experts) drawn from businesses in each sector. Further, funding will be made available for a small business incubator program under the community college component. Sufficient funding will be allocated for the startup of at least three businesses each year. The selection will be on a competitive basis as judged by the CC business faculty and other faculty relative to the priority sector for that year.
Encouraging Investment in Belize - Given the poor history of business and job development in Belize, this party recognizes the critical importance of job creation and need for business investment in Belize to create those jobs. It is also recognized that the history and culture of Belize needs to be fully understood and protected by those who may invest in Belize from foreign countries. Since passing a law to encourage business development several years ago, very little business development with significant job creation has been accomplished and improvements need to be made in this legislation that will foster real and measurable quality job creation. It is also recognized that not all business types generate the same economic impact to Belize. It is important therefore, to promote the types of business that will allow money generated through the new business to circulate to other businesses within Belize and multiply the value and impact of the money generated to the overall economy. Partnerships between foreign investors and Belizean Nationals will be encouraged with increased incentives offered to majority ownership of Belizean Nationals. Existing government offices will be reorganized to form a new Department of Economic Development designed to solicit investment, track and report the progress of investments and business development, and work with the GOB in creation of legislation to implement this policy. This legislation will include but not be limited to: (a) Requirement for foreign investors and new residents to attend the UB for a course in Belize History and Culture, (b) Improve the criteria relating to tax incentives and other inducements to encourage foreign investment in new business including the attraction of new retirement communities, medical training facilities, manufacturing and light industry, non-traditional medical facilities, and the development of unique products to be exported, (c) Plan and provide for the development of the University of Belize Business Park in Belmopan including the provision of needed infrastructure improvements, (d) Continue with the expansion of airport facilities including smaller airports located near business development, (e) Plan for and improve the development of port facilities, and (f) Utilize the Strategic Planning process in the implementation of these strategies.
Plank No. 6 - Support Constitutional Amendments
Whereas the Constitution of Belize has not been amended since its original institution in 1981, and Whereas the history of government operations based on this constitution indicates the need for change, and Whereas the people of Belize need a more direct voice in government through the election of government officials and also need mechanisms to make petitions to their government, and Whereas the size of government and government budgets needs to be limited to what the people want and can afford:
Elected Senate – In order to further the balance of powers and provide a more direct voice of the people in government, this party supports the proposal to provide for the "District Election" of senators. There shall be two elected senators from each District in Belize which will have equal voting rights and other equal responsibilities for their District. The terms of office shall be staggered and shall be for a period of 3 years. Senators elected to office may be recalled by a petition of the registered voters of the District and a special election set within 6 months of the receipt of the validated petition.
Petitions by the People – Petitions to the government of Belize for grievances and voter initiated ballot initiatives (including proposed constitutional amendments) shall be accepted by a petition of 25% or more of the registered voters of the people. District petitions shall be by District voters. National petitions shall be from voters of Belize. Upon receipt of the petition, the petition shall be validated and placed on the next respective election ballot. To make changes in the law or recall an elected Senator by voter initiated change will then require a vote of approval of 60% of the registered voters of the District or Belize depending on the type of petition.
Voter Fraud – Any voter found to accept payment for any public vote shall be considered to have committed a felony punishable by the loss of all future voting rights in Belize and shall pay a fine of $1,000 BZ.
Issuance of Public Debt – No debt in excess of $500,000 BZ shall be issued by the government of Belize without a vote of 9 of the 12 elected Senators.
Tax Reform - This party believes that the current type of taxation system in Belize to raise income for government debt and operations is unbalanced and places an undue burden on people of low and moderate income. It is also recognized that certain revenues are required to operate government in the provision of public services. This party will recommend the decrease in the current gas tax as a priority and will not increase any taxes unless first recommended by the auditor general after a full audit of all current government income and expenses. No tax increase or decrease shall be allowed without a vote of 9 of the 12 elected Senators. Tax reform will be initiated with the philosophy of graduated tax scales from low taxes on the poor and increased percentage of taxation on higher incomes and higher valued property. Revenue sharing with local chartered Towns and Villages based on population and need shall be considered.
Plank No. 7 - Foreign Policy
Whereas it is recognized by this party that the foreign policy of Belize can have significant impact on not only Belize, but other nations of the world, and Whereas the foreign policy of Belize should reflect the majority feelings of Belizeans and is, as a sovereign nation, recognized as a bridge between Central America and Caribbean nations, and Whereas Belize desires to be a positive influence in the world:
The Prime Minister shall serve as the official voice of Belize foreign policy in dealing with other nations. The Prime Minister will confer with elected Senators, Cabinet Members, and voters prior to taking official positions before the United Nations, individual nations, or other world bodies.
Belize will honor all agreements and debts incurred by past and present Belize commitments unless found to be unlawful.
Belize will honor past commitments and enter into new mutual aid agreements for emergency aid in the relief of hurricane damage and other national disasters.
It shall be the official policy of Belize to work with other nations of the world in the control and elimination of drug trafficking, improper trafficking or forced labor of peoples, money laundering, and similar acts of crime as determined by Belize law. Law enforcement within Belize (through combining the efforts of the Police Force and the Belize Defense Force) shall give such crime a high priority in daily operations through the establishment of a special department for such crime control.
It is recognized that foreign trade is an element of foreign policy. It shall be the general policy of Belize to trade fairly with all nations which adhere to mutual international treaties and do not violate human rights according to the UN and Geneva Convention in an effort toward a free market and economic development.
It shall be the policy of this party to continue discussions and promote positive relations with Guatemala in the resolution of the historic border dispute between the two countries.
This party shall seek appropriate development using sustainable methods, whether privately, through grants and other assistance from foreign countries in the development of Belize that would be beneficial to Belize in every aspect. We will not accept or allow assistance or development which will undermine or degrade our sovereignty or natural resources.
This party recognizes the need to remain neutral to the extent possible in the international disputes between other nations. Belize will not support acts of aggression, illegal sanctions, or acts contrary to international treaties.
This party will ensure that the foreign policy of Belize will be such that Belize will become known for its unbiased integrity and advocacy for human rights in international affairs. The party shall also insure that the best interests of the Belizean people and the sovereignty of Belize will be the primary driving factor in all foreign policy.
It shall be the policy of this party to protect the historic rights and culture of Belizean peoples.
This party will re-evaluate existing treaties and participation in international organizations relative to the best interest of the Belizean people. All proposed changes in existing treaties and participation in international organizations shall be brought before the public through media, discussed in open forums, and placed before the elected Senate for majority vote (9 out of 12 minimum) prior to making changes or implementing new treaties and participation in international organizations.
Plank No. 8 - Ethics in Government
Whereas this party will insist upon the highest of ethical standards in the operations of government, and Whereas this party will deal honestly with the citizens of Belize, and Whereas every elected official and every government employee has a duty to report violations of ethical standards, and Whereas knowingly failing to report a violation is a violation of the Code in itself, and Whereas this party shall insure that a code of ethics will immediately be put in place with the following elements as a minimum, and Whereas failure to abide by the newly established code of ethics by any elected, appointed, or other government employee will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination from elected office, appointed office, or employment with the Government of Belize at municipal, District, or national level; the following shall be the minimum standards of the "Government of Belize Code of Ethics":
It is the intention of this party that the Code of Ethics will be applied even-handedly and that all employees and elected and appointed officials shall be treated fairly. Elected officials, appointed officials, and government employees shall be guided in all their relations by the highest standards of honesty and integrity.
Belize officials and employees must avoid any action, investment, interest or association that might interfere, or be thought to interfere, with their independent exercise of judgment such as:
(a) Have a material ownership interest in any business enterprise that does business with the government.
(b) Pursue outside of his or her employment or elected office any business opportunity that could be considered an opportunity that came to the person in the course of his or her position with the Belize government.
(c) Elected officials, appointed officials, and government employees and their immediate family members should not do through third parties things that this section of the code would otherwise prohibit. Questions on potential conflicts shall be resolved by the "Ethics Committee."
(d) A standing committee known as the "Ethics Committee" shall be created and shall be comprised of 5 members of the National Assembly (2 appointed by the Prime Minister, 2 appointed by the opposition leader, and 1 appointed by the majority vote of the Senate). This "Ethics Committee" shall have the responsibility of oversight of ethics in Belize Government.
- Gifts - The government must avoid the appearance of an improper relationship with current or prospective vendors. Therefore, neither government officials nor employees of the government nor any member of the person’s immediate family may accept, directly or indirectly any gift, favor or entertainment that can reasonably be perceived as an attempt to influence government business.
- Copyrighted Material and Software – The Government of Belize will not allow employees to make copies of legally protected works including software, database information, and other copyrighted materials.
- E-mail – Employees are prohibited from using E-mail or other means of communications in a way that conceals the user’s identity, violates the law, or distributes or saves pornographic or offensive material. The unauthorized use of another employee’s password or making use of other unauthorized means to access information such as database information is strictly prohibited.
- Harassment – This Party is committed to maintaining a bias-free environment where harassment is prohibited. This Party will not tolerate harassment of any kind by government officials or staff including sexual harassment.
- Discrimination - This party will train, promote and compensate individuals based on job-related qualifications and abilities, without regard to race, color, religion, natural origin, gender, political affiliation, age or disability.
- Drug-Free Workplace – The use, sale, possession, negotiations for, or being under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol on the job or on government property will be prohibited. The abuse or improper use of prescription or over-the-counter drugs or other controlled substances will also be also prohibited.
- Unlawful Payments – It shall be illegal for government officials and employees to receive payments from companies or individuals in order to provide special treatment or consideration with respect to any government service or transaction.
- Whistleblowing – It shall be the responsibility of government staff and elected and appointed officials to report their concerns about serious misconduct occurring within the government of Belize including violations of the "Government of Belize Code of Ethics." The Government of Belize will not tolerate the punishment or unfair treatment of any government employee or official who reports concerns in good faith or who participates in an investigation of any such reports. Retaliation against an individual for reporting in good faith any violation of the Code of Ethics or other serious offense is a serious violation of the Code of Ethics that will subject the violator to appropriate disciplinary action, up to and including the termination of employment or loss of public office. A fraud investigation unit and fraud hotline shall be established. The fraud investigation unit will report regularly to the "Ethics Committee".
- Nepotism – Nepotism is generally defined as giving special favors to relatives. This party will not tolerate nepotism within government operations and will enact special legislation to address the organizational structure of the GOB and detailed rules relative to this issue.
- Government Hiring Practice – This party shall insure that every position in the government of Belize is properly advertised with a detailed job description, salary range, education and experience requirements, and other appropriate information about the government position. This party will insure that government managers are properly trained in proper hiring practices. This party shall also insure that promotions are based on qualifications and experience with proper documentation and in accordance with a new and improved set of Human Resource Standards.
- All elected, appointed, and government staff shall be required to read and understand the new "Government of Belize Code of Ethics" that will be written in detail to include the standards above and other related standards. After reading the document, all elected, appointed, and government staff shall be required to sign that they have read this document and will be given a copy of the document for their personal use.
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