As published in The Reporter.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

I recently had a chance to review a really interesting booklet called Stand Up, Speak Up - A Guide to Public Participation in Belize.  Written by Candy Gonzales, it was published in June 2010 by the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO).  The organization states the goal of the booklet as “to help citizens of Belize actively and effectively participate in the decision-making processes that affect their country.” Mrs. Gonzalez, who is known for her efforts on public education of the environmental and health risks from the Chalillo Dam, says that she had seen other guides done both in Belize and abroad, but she wanted to write one that was more accessible to the majority of people.  She said that she pictured something that was “informative but not intimidating or condescending.” And after reading through the publication, I believe that she has succeeded.

Its small size definitely does not intimidate, and its bright graphics and easy-to-read text makes it very understandable.  The booklet starts off by defining public participation, and encourages the reader to get involved, make a difference, and create change!  It explains in simple language how a normal citizen like me can participate in public decisions, and where to get access to public information.

According to the booklet, “Public participation is a ‘use it or lose it’ right.  If we do not use our opportunities to participate or demand our right to public participation, those in power will make all the decisions without the advice or consent of the people, us.” It stirs the reader to action by saying “When you see mangroves being cut, the shoreline being dredged, dead fish in the river, or when you believe the local or national government is acting unfairly and not in the interests of the general public, regular people, like you and me, can take action and we can MAKE A DIFFERENCE!” Two identifiable characters – a respectful - looking gentleman and a pleasant, smiling woman, lead the reader easily through what would normally be heavy instruction.  They explain what laws provide for public participation, where to find them, and even better – provide step by step guides through each process.  The Freedom of Information Act, the Ombudsman Act, and the Environmental Protection Act are all neatly covered, and after reading through their explanations, I feel as if I am better prepared to take on these issues which pop up from time to time in my own community.

Mrs. Gonzalez tells me that BELPO is a member of the Coalition to Save Our National Heritage, and the free booklet has been passed out at their meetings, as well as has been promoted at 6th Form classes and village meetings around the country.  I believe it should be required reading for all Village Councils as well, since they are usually the first and responsible party to take on local issues.  Did I mention that the Guide is free?  Download your own copy from BELPO’s website today at http://www.belpo.com.  As usual, send me your comments at niallgillett@gmail.com.