There was also much discussion about the significant number of interventions by Ministers in the process of visa applications with letters of recommendations supporting the requests by applicants.


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“You want us to believe that the letters from the ministers played no role?”


Screen_Shot_2017-01-26_at_8.14.55_PMFormer Director Ruth Meighan


“No, I am not saying that.  I am saying it’s a recommender and he recommends a person but I am saying to you that the approval was given based on the recommendation that is presented to me by the Officer to that this person met the requirement for him/her to be issued a VISA.”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“What role did the letter from the minister…”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“It was a recommendation”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“Trust me, you could talk to me every time but I will ask the question, what role did the letter from the minister play in the application for a VISA?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“It was a recommendation.”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“Did it affect the decision one way or the other?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“The decision for the approval of VISA was given based on the information presented to say that a person met the requirement for the issuance of a VISA.”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“Am I to take it from that that, well let me ask you was a letter from the minister a requirement?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“No”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“Right, am I to understand from your answer that the letter from the minister played no role?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“That’s not what I am saying; I am saying it was a recommendation.”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“Did you consider the recommendations from the ministers?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“Yes, it was a recommendation like from anybody else, it is a recommendation, it is a letter from the minister recommending and the approval is given based on the information presented to say that the person met the requirement for a VISA.”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“So if a minister writes to you and says Mr. Sam or Mary from China wants to come to Belize and is applying for a VISA and I ask you to give it favorable consideration have you ever called a minister and ask him if he knows those people who he is recommending?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“That application is then given to the officer in charge of that section so that they could do the due process to process that application and based on their recommendation that approval is given.”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“Right, I will ask you my question again. Have you ever called one of the ministers and asked them?”

 

Former Director Ruth Meighan


“No”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“So what did you do with those letters?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“Those letters were used as recommendations on the file and when the officer brings it to me and say that the person meets the requirement that is the basis upon which we give the approval.”


Eamon Courtenay, Member, Senate Select Committee


“Thank you Mr. Chairman.”


While the Committee raised concern over the practise, Meighan was nonchalant. In fact, she didn’t even seem to remember that in 2010 she had instituted a new policy that letters of recommendation for an applicant could only be done by family members. Senator Mark Lizarraga exposed that many approved visa applications ONLY had letters of recommendations from Ministers.


Mark Lizarraga, Member, Senate Select Committee


“So you agree that when the Auditor General sees somebody involve in the process for recommending or sponsoring that is not an immediate family that she would naturally raise the concern because your recommendation for the process of VISA issuance clearly states what it is that person are supposed to look for when they are processing VISA applications and this is your recommendation and you should have been following it as well so if you saw somebody that was not an immediate family making a recommendation shouldn’t you have done something about it or were you allowed to break your own rules?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“As I said before that the basis upon the approval was given was based on the recommendation of the officer stating that a person meets the requirement for them to be issued VISA.”


Screen_Shot_2017-01-26_at_8.15.29_PMMark Lizarraga, Member, Senate Select Committee


“We’ve heard that a million times already but where I am going, your officers knew that it had to be immediate family, you knew it had to be immediate family so are you saying that besides the minister’s letter of recommendations there would be a letter from the person for whom they were making that recommendation on that person’s behalf, would that person have had a letter there himself?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“I don’t know if there were any other letters I cannot say that.”


Mark Lizarraga, Member, Senate Select Committee


“So then certainly the minister is not related to these people, do you agree?”


Former Director Ruth Meighan


“Yeah I agree the minister couldn’t be related to everybody that he wrote the recommendation for.”

 

The extent of these direct interventions into very sensitive processes is not fully known. The Auditor General’s report did highlight instances but the entire report only covered 25% of the two year period that was investigated. Additionally, Former Director Maria Marin provided to the Committee a list she had compiled showing who those Ministers were making requests for visas and the number of times this occurred. If you’re guessing they were just two, or five, or maybe a few dozens, guess again.


Mark Lizarraga, Member, Senate Select Committee


“In a period 26th of March, end of March to the end of August, five months, there were some 248 people on this list that words out to about 50 a month. In another list over a period of two days, this was June 6th and 7th 2013, there were 47 such requests in two days of June 2013.  In end of March again to end of May, there were another fifty per month because that list was about 96 people and most of the persons in these lists are Chinese, the vast majority as a matter of fact.”


This list reflects the time during Marin’s tenure as Acting Director and not the period during which Meighan served.


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