Castro-Cheques0002-300x225And unto more pressing issues with the Governments dishonored Ministers, Prime Minister Barrow was asked of checks paid out by the Belize Airports Authority to Minister of State in the Minister of Transport, Edmund Castro.  This is after Leader of the Opposition; Francis Fonseca revealed a total of 60 checks to the House of Representatives. This move prompted the PM to react with  a swift counter-response stating that in his view it was not ‘Corrupt’ but was ‘Ill-advised and wrong”. Here’s how that played out.

Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition

“There are cheques here made out to him. Cheque number zero-zero-four-nine-five-four in the amount of nine hundred dollars to Edmond Castro…Belize Bank cheque Airport Authority to Edmond Castro. Cheque number zero-zero-four-nine-five-seven in the amount of four thousand dollars to Edmond Castro. Belize Airport Authority cheque number zero-zero-five-zero-six-six in the amount of five thousand one hundred and fifty-six dollars and fifty-five cents made out to Edmond Castro. Man this is absolute nonsense Mister Speaker, absolute nonsense, and that is just a sampling man. I have over sixty cheques here either made for the members personal-use for him to cash or for him to use for political purposes or to help family members. There is a growing perception out there that corruption is eating away at this U.D.P. government and the Belizean people have had enough. And so it is a very important issue Mister Speaker and as I said earlier, our prime minister who started out on this very high horse and very high note of not being prepared to even stand a whiff of corruption now finds himself in the unenviable position of having to be defending everybody who is involved or alleged to be involved in corruption and it is eating away across the government.”

And outside the National Assembly, the media questioned the P.M on Castro’s move to access public funds for his personal gain and use.

Jules Vasquez- Reporter

“Sir, the burning issue, Edmund Castro I believe you said the word wrong and distasteful and something that should not be done and will not be done, will there be any punity measures taken against Minister Castro?”

Screen_Shot_2014-01-23_at_6.55.15_PMHonourable Dean Oliver Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

“No, as I’ve said, the Airports Authority had the power to issue the cheques, had the power to approve the payments and that is what they did. So technically, everybody is in the clear. I have said to the board that I am extremely disappointed in them and I have said to the minister that I am extremely disappointed in him because of the optics, because it does stink to high heavens. But I cannot say that any offence was committed. I can just accuse both of them of extreme bad judgment.”

Jules Vasquez- Reporter

“Sir but these are public funds. He should not be able to use public funds at his whim or to access them.”

Honourable Dean Oliver Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

“I don’t know if it was at him whim. For whatever purposes he used the funds for, the board, the Belize Airports Authority, approved the issuing of the cheques, the disbursement of the funds to him. I can’t say too many times that I consider that extremely ill-advised and wrong, but every board has the authority to make payment for purposes that the board approves. Some of those purposes, you and I will obviously see as ill-considered and in this case, you can’t get away from that fact—and I am not trying to do that at all—but you must realize that this is not a matter of hair-splitting. Indeed the authority, going through the proper process—by way of board meetings that were convene, by way of their internal protocols that were followed—approved these disbursements. I, had I been on that board, would have absolutely resigned in protest if other board members in the majority had insisted in doing what was done But the board, as a board approved, that's - I'm afraid - it, in so far as sanctions or legal repercussions are concerned. Political consequences, of course, are multiple, and I am afraid I have to - and the Government - are taking a lick for it and deservedly so."

Jules Vasquez- Reporter

"However, are you certain that in all 60 case; I have only seen 9 cheques, but in all 60 cases, board resolutions were taken?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

"I don't believe there are 60. The Leader of the Opposition did not recite 60, and I absolutely challenge him to produce 60. In terms of my discussions with the board, I am pretty confident that we're not talking about 60, and you would expect that the Leader of the Opposition was on to a good thing that he would exaggerate. But it's certainly not less than 6, 8, 10 - whatever, and again, I don't know how many ways there are to say this. It was wrong in my view, completely wrong.”

Jules Vasquez- Reporter

"However, without a board resolution, it would not only be wrong, it would - we can't say illegal - but we can say perhaps, corrupt."

Honourable Dean Oliver Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

"No, no lets be absolutely clear, I am not sure what all the rules are that govern the Belize Airport Authority but in the normal course the practises amongst below a certain level the CEO would a have the authority, the discretion to approve and on a number of those would fall under that category for fifteen, hundred any number on that category anything above that level the board would have to approve and I spoke to the CEO yesterday, and he said that whatever cheques that are above $5,000, if he signed any of those, he would have signed pursuant to board authorization. He did concede that he signed cheques for smaller amounts in the exercise of his discretion, but again, there is nothing on the face of it legally wrong. There is everything on the face of it politically wrong, and I accept that."

And while Elvin Penner made an appearance at the House sitting, Edmund Castro was a no-show.

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