Facing a political firestorm over the past weeks over the scandalous findings contained in the Auditor General’s special audit report into issuances of visa, passport and nationality during the period January 2012 and September 2013, Prime Minister Dean Barrow went into damage control mode today. Flanked by his favourite non-elected Minister Godwin Hulse, State Minister Beverly Williams and Director of Immigration, Diana Locke, the PM addressed the topics that have called into question his administration’s ability to deal with increasing corruption.

Screen_Shot_2016-09-01_at_8.09.07_PMRt. Honourable Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

“The Government of Belize accepts that on any reckoning that report paints a sorry picture, the picture which has legitimately very much alarmed Belizeans.  This is a matter of the greatest possible regret to me and as Leader of the Government it is my duty to apologize to the nation for the fact that things went so wrong during the period covered by the report.”

Whether the increasingly exhausted Belizean public will accept the apology is another matter. The special audit report contains hundreds of cases where Auditor General Dorothy Bradley considers there was wrongdoing. She cited so much wrong or questionable that the Report was broken into three sections, which contained over 700 pages of possible criminal behaviour.

But while the Prime Minister was apologetic and acknowledge that something’s did go wrong, his Government also launched a campaign to describe the report as not factual. The PM even said that the report caused an undesirable public panic.

Rt. Honourable Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

“In a number of very significant ways that report is extremely flawed. It has made some giant unjustified leaps in coming to certain conclusions, it never gave the department the opportunity to respond to and clear up even those allegations which had perfectly legitimate explanations and it is sure as hell did not follow the rules of natural justice in naming people as guilty of wrong doing without ever giving them a chance to answer or even comment on the accusations.”

Rt. Honourable Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize

“We also hope to correct some of the damage made by the report in panicking the public by for instance wrongly saying that hundreds of VISA foils cannot be accounted for.  For giving the impression that thousands of passports were fraudulently issued simply because biometric tests could not be carried out.”

To quell that panic and firestorm, the two Ministers linked to the Ministry of Immigration and the Director of Department addressed the issues which they felt were causing the greatest concern for Belizeans.

First the Director of Immigration challenged the findings that claimed the Government negligently incurred losses when the wrong visa foils were orders.

Diana Locke - Director of Immigration

“The report raised some concerns about the cost and destructions of 25,000 VISAS supplied by 3M, subsequent to the delivery of the 25,000 stickers 3M contacted the immigration department and informed them that there were some quality issue with the stickers and they would like to request its destruction consequent upon the confirmation of destruction by the immigration department they were prepared to ship another batch of 25,000 stickers, the stickers were indeed destroyed by immigration; information in the department which I received indicated that there were five persons there at the time of destruction unfortunate no one from audit was there but there was a check made with Audit verbally at that time and I can confirm that a new batch of stickers were shipped and I can also further confirm that payment was made only ones and the reason I can definitely confirm that those payments were made by the ministry of Foreign Affairs through it Embassy of Belize in Washington D.C., those instructions were made by me to the Ambassador, copied to the Financial Secretary,  the Director of Immigration, the CEO of Foreign Affairs and the respective forensic officers of the two departments.”

The Director also explained that the full capacity of the biometrics checks system was discontinued since 2014, when the license for the company which provided that service expired. Minister Hulse added that the claim that there are over 55,000 fraudulent passports is erroneous.

Honourable Godwin Hulse – Minister of Immigration

“It is not correct to say that there were 55,000 passports without biometrics because I am one of them and I am sure I am not fraudulent, I just wanted to clear that point.”

Minister Hulse also fiercely challenged the Auditor General’s charge that Ministers could not get involved in the processing of immigration documents.

Honourable Godwin Hulse – Minister of Immigration

“I don’t have any problem with Chinese visiting, this is an open economy, an open society and I am here to tell you that $2,000.00 a VISA if we had a million Chinese visiting like we had on the crew ships we wouldn’t need to collect taxes because the Prime Minister would have 2 billion dollars.  The European Union does not require VISAS for Chinese, some Southern American countries don’t so I don’t have an issue with the VISA because VISA requirements are clear and anybody can correct me if I am wrong from the immigration department; you simply needed to have enough money to maintain while you are here which was sixty dollars a day, you needed to have a return ticket and a place to stay and you get a month and you get out of here, what could be so complicated about that so this issue that somebody would recommend somebody in China to come here and they don’t know the somebody when you ever recommend somebody it is not recommending that somebody you know it is to say that Jack whom I know or maybe who is a supporter wants to bring that somebody if all is in order issue the VISA, you should even need a recommendation, that could not be a criminal offense by no stretch of the imagination.”

While the Prime Minister gave his apology, Hon. Beverly Castillo-Wiliams informed that she knows of several persons who have been allegedly wrongly mentioned in the report. One of them being the Speaker of the House Michael Peyrefitte.

Honourable Beverly Castillo-Wiliams - Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration

“I have in my possession where many people felt that they were innocently accused and I have in my possession a letter from the Speaker of the House, Honourable Mike Peyrefitte, where he wrote to the Auditor General just yesterday demanding an apology now poor Mr. Doff cannot demand an apology he is appealing to me, minister pleas take out my name out of the book please help me take it out, fortunately for Honourable Peyrefitte he is in a position to say that, that he is demanding an immediate apology and that he will exercise his option if that is not received in a reasonable time.”

The Prime Minister and his Ministers made a lot of emphasis on the fact that the Auditor General did not grant several persons named in the report an opportunity to respond to the allegations. This, they said, will have many legal consequences.

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