The Role of Presiding Officers

The Legislature of Belize is bi-cameral. It comprises of two Houses: the Senate (Upper House) and the House of Representatives (Lower House). After the dissolution of the National Assembly and when the House first meets after any general election and before it proceeds to dispatch any other business, the House of Representatives elects a Speaker who shall be above the age of thirty and he/she may be elected either from among the Members of the House of Representatives who are not Ministers or from among persons who are not Members of either House. It also elects a Deputy Speaker from among the elected Members of the House who are not Ministers.

In the Senate, similar procedures take place when it first meets. A President of the Senate is elected either among the Senators or from among persons who are not Members of either House. The Senate also elects a Vice-President from among the appointed Senators.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President of the Senate are referred to as Presiding Officers of the National Assembly. During a Sitting the Presiding Officers ensure that the rights and privileges of Members are protected and also that the people’s business is conducted without intimidation and interference. They also ensure that there is order and decorum during a Sitting. For example, when a Member raises a point of order, the Presiding Officers are responsible to rule and make the final decision as to whether the point of order is in accordance with the Standing Orders of each House, and the decision is not open to challenge during that Sitting. The Presiding Officers must ensure that evenhandedness is guaranteed in making rulings.

Other duties of the Presiding Officers at a Sitting include the following: prayers, announcements, ordering documents that come from Ministries and Statutory Bodies that required to be presented to the National Assembly to lie on the Table, putting to the House questions on Motions and Bills, and also to announce the result of every vote taken. Members of both Houses who wish to speak on any Bill or Motion have to be acknowledged by the Presiding Officers. The Presiding Officers have the authority to call emergency and special Sittings when both Houses are on recess. Overall the Presiding Officers have the power to regulate the conduct of business in all matters not provided in the Standing Orders of each House, and the decision in all cases for which these Standing Orders do not provide shall be on the discretion of the Presiding Officers and is not open to challenge. They are also responsible for the management and general administration of the chamber during a Sitting.

The Presiding Officers have administrative roles. The Speaker of the House of Representatives is the Chairman of the National Assembly Staff Committee while the President of the Senate becomes the Vice Chairman of the Committee. The said Committee is responsible for the terms and conditions of service of the staff of the National Assembly. The Presiding Officers are also the chief diplomats for their respective chamber. They are the Joint Presidents of Belize Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Branch. They meet and host parliamentary delegations that visit Belize occasionally.