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Former Director of Immigration Ruth Meighan appeared before the Senate Select Committee hearing today. Meighan’s name has come up numerous times, both in the Auditor General’s special audit report for alleged involvement in the questionable processing of visas and nationality certificates, and in earlier hearings in which her successor Maria Marin points to her as the source of answers for many of the Committee’s questions.


Today, under a heavy clouds of controversy, Meighan took the oath to tell nothing but the truth and began answering questions by the Committee. Meighan had served as Director from October 2010 to February 2013, which means that her term is covered in full by the special audit. The questioning by the Committee was more direct, having established an understanding of the process and problems from previous hearings. One matter that stuck out from Marin’s testimonies is that there was a culture of looseness and improper behaviour at the Immigration Department that led to schemes and wrongful acts. Meighan disagreed with that statement however, even though in other testimonies she admitted that illegalities were committed by officers who are under her command.


Screen_Shot_2017-01-18_at_6.46.50_PMMark Lizarraga - Senate Select Committee


“We were told by your assistant at the time, Mrs. Maria Marin, that she encountered a culture, she made reference to the possibility, a scheme in the department, were you aware of these things? This culture, not filling in the forms properly even though you said all VISAS that you approved had all the information. The question is, were you aware of a culture or a scheme that was going on in the department at that time?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“There is a culture at the Immigration Department but I don’t know about a scheme because I practically gave approval for these things on the understanding that the information that was presented to me was accurate information so all the approvals that I gave was given on the information that was presented.”


Mark Lizarraga - Senate Select Committee


“And, just a pause, if Mrs. Marin said she found about in some instances about 90%  of the application that came to her were incomplete and she would send them back what was your position if you saw an application that was incomplete or missing information?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“Similarly send them back so that they could provide us with the additional information.”


Mark Lizarraga - Senate Select Committee


“So go ahead, so everything that you approved had all the information that was required as per the process.”

 

Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“As per the process”


Pastor Rocke - Senate Select Committee


“You are refuting this Report?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“I am not refuting any report.”


Pastor Rocke - Senate Select Committee


“Well, you said that you know that you signed one?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“I am saying that what I signed on is approvals that I gave to permanent residency were based on information that was provided to me by the officer on time indicating that a person has been in country for over a year that qualifies him for permanent residency, that is what I said.”


Screen_Shot_2017-01-18_at_6.47.12_PMAldo Salazar, Chairman, Senate Select Committee


“What the Auditor General did was to compare the VISA issuance record with the records for permanent residence and then it revealed that there wasn’t sufficient time?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“Well, what I had was not the VISA issuance record but what I had was an application file with a passport completely photocopied with the pages indicated on the files saying Ruth Meighan entered on this date, her sometimes work permit stamps in there and based on that it shows over a period of time that the person has been in Belize..”

 

Aldo Salazar, Chairman, Senate Select Committee


“So you are saying that you would have seen a passport with a stamp indicating that the person was here in Belize for an excess for a period of a year, well the Auditor General is saying that the person could not have been here for a period over a year, so the stamp would have had to be a forgery or a fraud?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“Obviously”


According to Meighan, as the Director she approved visas on emergency basis and recommended the approval of nationality certificates to the Minister. The audit report brought to the fore a number of irregularities in both departments, one of them was pointed out in Table A, in which visas, nationality and passports were approved for persons who did not qualify for them. Meighan was asked to explain what she knew.


Aldo Salazar, Chairman, Senate Select Committee


“In the case of Jim Chen An #1, the Belize passport was issued within six weeks of the VISA application and in terms of the second one, Caled Asaad, he received his within seven months and if we continue we can see that passports were received six months, four months, two months, three weeks, three months, one month and in one case eighteen days from the dated of the VISA application, is this proper procedure, is this proper?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“Well, I wouldn’t say that it is proper but what can I say, the files probably came indicating that everything was in order…”


Aldo Salazar, Chairman, Senate Select Committee


“I don’t want you to assume what was in the file?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“Well, this is all what I can tell you Senator, that whenever an application comes to my desk for nationality for example because obviously they received a nationality certificate so that they’ve could have gotten a passport, I am assuming that that was what happened, if that file comes to my desk, comes with information indicating that these person met the requirement for nationality and based on that that then will be recommended to the minister for approval. Every time an application comes to my desk whether it is for VISA or whether it is for nationality it comes from an officer telling me that all the requirements are on that application, including, well I can’t look at these specifically and say well definitely because I don’t recall any of these but I am telling you that the application upon reaching my desk would come with all the requirements that were needed.”


Mark Lizarraga - Senate Select Committee


“So you’re saying you never approved a VISA application if it did not have all the requirements?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“If it did not have all the requirements”


There was another area of concern raised by the audit report. The Audit team found that persons were approved visas even though they did not have a sponsor as is required by Immigration rules. Meighan was given a chance to explain, although she appeared very confused about what a sponsor is.


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee


“You needed to have a sponsor to apply or to get a VISA, am I correct?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“I don’t’ know if that was really necessary is a part of the requirement but for all application for VISA as long as I believe the person could have shown me afford to visit on their own I think that would also be taken into consideration.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee


“And how would that have been recorded?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“I am not sure, I am not sure.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee


“So how would you know, how an Auditor know for example looking at your form, looking at the VISA requirement, looking at the column for sponsors and not seeing anything there, how would you know, for example because you look at all these documents, for the approval of these VISAS how would you know if that person would pay for their own way and did not need a sponsor?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“Honestly I can’t tell right off but id o know that at the time of the application there was information given to say that he person can afford to visit Belize and based on that information I used to based and approve on.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee


“Could a person who had a permanent residency status in Belize, could these persons become sponsors, and did that qualified?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“I don’t know if we were, I don’t recall if there was any distinction between a status of a person being here or whether they can sponsor a person a person I don’t recall that ever being an issue.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee


“Ok, so you would normally require of a sponsor prove of funds or a business certificate or that they have been living here for a while, would that qualify them to be s sponsor?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“Immediate family member, if they could show relationship, yeah.”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee


“So because I a related to you in some way and the appendix describes who should be s sponsor, family member, so any family member could be s sponsor without showing proof of funds?”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“I don’t know if I would classify a person as a sponsor or as an invitee, somebody inviting a member of the family…”

Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee


“The law calls for a sponsor…”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“The procedure calls for s sponsor…”


Mark Lizarraga, Senate Select Committee


“Right, and that is the law…”


Ruth Meighan, former Immigration Director (2010-2013)


“It is just like an administrative policy it is just to guide us I think but I don’t think it is within the law, I think it is just a policy that guides the department on how we approve.”


Meighan ended her testimony today after five hours of grilling by the Committee. But it’s not over for her, as she is expected to return next week Wednesday when the Committee resumes its work.

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