Yesterday the former Director of Immigration Maria Marin completed her testimony before the Senate Special Select Committee’s hearing into the Auditor General’s special audit report which reviewed questionable activities at the Department of Immigration and Nationality from 2011 to 2013.


Marin had to produce before the Committee a special list which she had compiled during her term as Acting Director. This list kept a record of those Ministers who were constantly recommending visas which was deemed a red flag in her Department. Marin was asked to explain the purpose of the list.


Screen_Shot_2017-01-12_at_8.04.59_PMMaria Marin, Former Director of Immigration


“But this list was specifically to advise our ministry of those that had coming through ministers and that had been approved.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee member


“And just for clarity the department did not keep track of those requests by minister before this March of 2013?”

 

Maria Marin, Former Director of Immigration


“I came on board the 20th of February and as a result of what I requested that we started to do this I am not aware if it was done before.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee member


“What happened as a result of then having seeing this list because I would assume for some reason you kept the list there had to be a specific purpose and intent?”


Maria Marin, Former Director of Immigration


“Well, I still have access to my e-mail so I was able to go back and research my e-mail.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee member


“That was not the question, the question was what actions or what was the reason having the list you submitted to, what happened, what transpired because of you keeping track of these things?”


Maria Marin, Former Director of Immigration

 

“Well, shortly thereafter, we saw the numbers decreasing, we definitely saw numbers decreasing.”


And while the numbers decreased according to the former Director, there is tremendous suspicion that it continued and continues perhaps up to this day. If you can recall, upon the publication of the Auditor General’s report, the Prime Minister and almost his entire Cabinet attacked the report’s credibility and defended what they deemed a right by Ministers to assist with the application of visas.


But the former Director Maria Marin, who served at the Immigration Department for seven years, does not agree with the heavy political influence in the process. When asked if she agreed with the Auditor General’s recommendation that the practise should stop, she concurred.


Mark Lizarraga - Senate Select Committee member


“The first item says, the recommendation heading is the Director of Immigration and Nationality should ensure that; (1) the intervention of ministers into the VISA process either through recommendation, letters or requests to expedite the process is stopped since a minister intervention is not provided for under the law, your comments?”


Maria Marin, Former Director of Immigration


“I believe that is something positive, the application be allowed to go through the process then that would allow for everybody to be given the necessary timeframe to do the necessary research, the necessary questionings so that at the end of the day the approvals are not necessarily horrid or that the approvals are free of influence from outside of the department.”


Marin also supported the recommendation that a further investigation be carried out to ensure that bribery was not involved in any of the interventions by Ministers or their agents.


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee member


“That the intervention by ministers, the CEO, Mayor, caretakers and private individuals in the VISA process is investigated to ascertain whether bribery was involved in the issuance of Belize VISAS those individuals who request or recommendations were made?”


Maria Marin, Former Director of Immigration


“I believe that any process that might have been hindered or does not show or where an audit report informs of some possible form of irregularity should be properly investigated so I thought that the report would lead to a proper investigation.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee member


“You mean recommendations, are you saying then that the investigations did not follow-up as per your expectations?”

 

Maria Marin, Former Director of Immigration


“This is referring to that there be a further investigation to ascertain, I understand it to mean that there should be as a result of this report further investigation and I agree with that.”

 

Throughout her two days of testimonies on January 4th and January 11th, the former head of the Immigration Department spoke candidly about the challenges she faced during her tenure. Marin spoke of an ingrained culture that was hard to tackle and which spread far and wide at the Ministry of Immigration, despite measures put in place. So how could such an important section of Government – dealing with highly sensitive aspects of our national identity – behave so rampantly? Marin held no punches back when she said it was because the political bosses sanctioned it.

 

Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee member


“You were referring to this scheme that obviously lead a significant breach of procedures in the department and a failure to comply with policies that you put in place or that was in place from 2010 and yet in 2013 these things still continued, so there was a scheme in place, there was this culture  which you knew about from 2010, which training took place, policies and procedures were put in place way back from 2010 which lead to your sending back 80 or what is the amount you use, 80 or 90% the files in some cases but it continued you were not able to break this culture and I am trying to understand if your role way back from 2010 was to improve this system, make policies and procedures so clear that people had to follow them, what went wrong?”


Maria Marin, Former Director of Immigration


“Like I said we needed to have the support from the decision makers.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee member


“So the failure to follow policies and procedures you are saying is that you did not have the support from the policy makers, from the politicians that is what you are saying?”


Maria Marin, Former Director of Immigration


“Basically, I did not feel that enough was not being done and therefore I am saying that the support was not there."

 

There has been a lot revealed in the four days of hearings which have so far seen the Auditor General Doroth Bradley and the former Director of Immigration Maria Marin provide answers to the Senate Select Committee. We will continue to look closer at each testimony and continue to provide you with reports.



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