The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, Mr Akbar Khan, has highlighted the advances made in establishing good governance and parliamentary democracy by the National Assembly of Belize during a six day visit to the CPA Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic Region member from 4 to 9 May 2019.

The CPA Secretary-General was welcomed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Belize, Hon. Laura Tucker-Longsworth; and President of the Senate, Senator Hon. Lee Mark Chang before attending a series of parliamentary meetings to discuss the CPA’s programmes for the upskilling of Parliamentarians and parliamentary staff and new developments in parliamentary strengthening in the Caribbean Region and in the wider Commonwealth.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives of Belize, Hon. Laura Tucker-Longsworth said: “I am delighted to welcome the Secretary-General and his team from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to Belize. We are working together to focus on the need for the Parliament to modernize and evolve to suit these modern times. The support of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the benchmarking exercise against international standards, developed through the CPA, has been invaluable to us.”

The CPA Secretary-General was received by Rt Hon. Dean O. Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize; Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs; and Mrs Kim Simplis Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children. The CPA Secretary-General also met with Ms Cynthia Williams, Executive Director of the National Women’s Commission in Belize to discuss the work of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) in promoting equality in Parliament.

The CPA Secretary-General highlighted the positive role of youth engagement in democracy and stressed the importance of gender equality in Parliament at a series of CPA Roadshows for young people aged 11 to 18 at four schools in the capital, Belize City – Anglican Cathedral College (ACC); Edward P. Yorke High School; St Catherine Academy; and Wesley College. The CPA Secretary-General was accompanied on the CPA Roadshows by the Speaker of the House of Representatives of Belize, Hon. Laura Tucker-Longsworth and the Clerk of Parliament, Mr Eddie Webster who spoke to students about the work of the National Assembly of Belize.

The CPA Roadshows for Schools and Universities provide an opportunity for young people to learn about the political values of the Commonwealth such as diversity, development and parliamentary democracy; to discuss issues of concern about the society in which they live; and to find out about the work of the CPA through their questions at the sessions. The CPA Secretary-General spoke about the importance of youth engagement in the political process and the sharing of Commonwealth political values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter, especially with the 60% of the 2.4 billion population of the Commonwealth who are aged under 30. The CPA Secretary-General also highlighted the empowerment of all women and girls in the Commonwealth to achieve gender equality as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 5.

The CPA Secretary-General said: “I am delighted to visit Belize to launch the CPA Roadshow for young people for the first time here and to engage with local students on the values that unite the Commonwealth. The CPA’s public engagement work across the Commonwealth and engaging young people in the democratic process by discussing the importance of the Commonwealth are key objectives of the CPA and our visit to Belize has emphasised this.”

The National Assembly of Belize is also engaging with the CPA Headquarters Secretariat in undertaking a self-assessment against the updated CPA Recommended Benchmarks for Democratic Legislatures. The CPA is currently implementing activities to encourage Commonwealth Parliaments to strive and uphold a high standard of parliamentary performance and the utilization of the CPA Benchmarks as a tool to provide Parliaments across the Commonwealth with assistance to strengthen their capacity to adhere to good governance principles.

This is part of a wider project, the Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy (CP4D), which is being led by Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) working with partners including the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), the CPA UK Branch and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF). The Commonwealth Partnership for Democracy was launched during the 2018 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, UK and the programme will work with Commonwealth Parliaments including Belize.

During his visit to Belize, the CPA Secretary-General was also briefed on the National Referendum that was held in Belize on 8 May 2019 on the question of whether to refer the longstanding legal territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize to the International Court of Justice for resolution.