A bomb went off today in Belmopan as the Prime Minister of Belize, during an impromptu press conference, asked former Minister of State Elvin Penner to resign as Area Representative for the Cayo Northeast constituency and from the United Democratic Party. The Prime Minister sang a whole different tune this morning as he went from defending Penner, to basically chastising him. And he did not do it alone. With the support of nearly his entire Cabinet, Dean Barrow, after the conclusion of a Special Session of the Cabinet, announced to the nation that the United Democratic Party no longer wanted Penner on their side of the ring. What we can say is that the UDP basically washed their hands and fed Penner to the wolves. This is after an investigation carried out at the Immigration and Nationality Department, dating back to April of this year when Penner was first given the authority to sign nationalities by the Prime Minister, proved that he is involved in other instances of corruption.
Dean Barrow- Prime Minister of Belize
“Over the long weekend the Minister and the director and I believe the C.E.O. invested some long hours on this exercise and the result is that the Minister was obliged to inform me yesterday and was obliged to inform Cabinet this morning that more evidence has surfaced of the involvement of Elvin Penner in other instances of what to us is impropriety. The material presented to Cabinet was and is enough for us to feel that Elvin Penner was involved in additional instances of what I will term irregularities. In that context the Cabinet as in fact the essence of the parliamentary party and certainly the essence of the party in the House of Representatives has decided that we can in the circumstances no longer continue to support Elvin Penner, meaning that in our view he cannot any longer continue to represent the people of the Cayo Northeast constituency as and in the name of the United Democratic Party. We hereby invite Honorable Penner to resign his seat, to resign in fact from the United Democratic Party, but I make clear that while we are acting now with the same regard to the norms that this party is sworn to uphold, we cannot expel Penner from the House of Representatives. If Hon. Penner heeds our request that he resign from the House or that he resign from the UDP which would produce the same result, then the procedures are set in motion for him to vacate the seat and for a bi-election to take place."
Penner got in trouble in the first instance when it was revealed that he signed the nationality certificate and the recommender declaration for Kim Wong Hong, a South Korean National who was issued a Belizean Passport back in the month of September while he was in detention in Taiwan being investigated for the embezzlement of millions of dollars. From there it has all been downhill for Penner and the road he will travel won’t get any smoother because according to the P.M, the party’s decision is irreversible.
If Penner refuses to resign and the petition for his recall, presently carried out by the People’s United Party, is successful, then there will be a recall referendum which could cause Penner to lose his seat. And while as recent as over the weekend the Prime Minister and other members of the United Democratic Party were out in Cayo Northeast calling on constituents to desist from signing the recall petition, today the P.M sent out a different message.
Dean Barrow- Prime Minister of Belize
“With respect to the recall mechanism - we're not going to go out there and ask people to sign the recall petition. Her majesty's loyal opposition has undertaken that assignment and we will give them ample opportunity to complete their assignment. We will certainly I believe take down the banners that say "don't sign the recall petition" and we will not have people on the streets in Cayo Northeast telling the voters not to sign the recall petition, let that process work and let the chips fall where they may. Penner has reached the end of the road with the United Democratic Party. While we have taken a decision that's entirely within authority in Cabinet, I don't believe we want to preempt the larger party. I would give you my personal position and I suspect that would also be the position of my colleagues we are not going to go out there and slaughter Penner, we are not going to do it, but to ask us to actually join some sort of a street campaign against a former colleague we believe is asking us to go too far. I don't know that I ever defended Penner, I moved immediately the evidence was brought to me to fire him and with respect to the recall petition; I made clear that I thought that in the circumstances as it then stood he was entitle to try to vindicate his right to resist the petition with the evidence. We still want to maintain our majority. We would prefer of there were to be no bi-election. A bi-election is a no win proposition for us in this sense - we already hold the seat. All we can do in a bi-election is to retain it. We can't gain an additional seat and of course there is always the possibility that we could lose the seat. We don't think so and based on my tour this weekend in Cayo Northeast. We have every confidence that we can win a bi-election. The point is that we are prepared to put it all on the line. We are prepared to contemplate the possibility of being one more seat down if that is what is required for us to do the right thing."
While Penner knows about Cabinets decision, there is no indication whether he will heed to the request. The Prime Minister hopes to get a response from the former Minister of State before he leaves the country tomorrow afternoon for a medical checkup.
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