If you’ve been following our expanded coverage of the Senate Select Committee hearings you would have heard the Committee members constantly raising alarm over the practise of Ministerial intervention in the processing of visas, nationality and passports.

The first official to testify, former Immigration Director Maria Marin, admitted that she was instructed to monitor and record the number of special requests or recommendation letters from Ministers that came with applications to the desks of Immigration officers. For her part, Former Director Ruth Meighan said she saw nothing out of the normal with the entry of Ministers’ letters. Ministerial intervention became so common-practise it seemed, that it moved from letters to their actual presence at the Immigration offices, and yet Meighan saw nothing wrong with seeing Ministers roaming at the Immigration Department. Here’s some of that discussion at the January 25th hearing.

Senator Eamon Courtney – Member Senate Select Committee

“What about the presence of ministers in the department itself do you recall seeing them in there?”

Screen_Shot_2017-02-13_at_8.09.06_PMRuth Meighan - Former Immigration Director


Senator Eamon Courtney – Member Senate Select Committee

“Who do you recall seeing them in there?”

Ruth Meighan - Former Immigration Director

“At times minister Heredia, minister Castro, minister Contreras, minister Patt I think a few times.”

Senator Eamon Courtney – Member Senate Select Committee

“What were they doing there?”

Ruth Meighan - Former Immigration Director

“I don’t know other that if they come to me or pass through my office I wouldn’t know.”

Senator Eamon Courtney – Member Senate Select Committee

“Mrs. Meighan, are you telling us you saw ministers in your department and you didn’t ask any questions why are these ministers here?”

Ruth Meighan - Former Immigration Director

“If the minister came to the office to see me then I see them if they are for any other business and they didn’t come to my office I ask no question about what they are doing in there.”

Senator Eamon Courtney – Member Senate Select Committee

“You are concern for minister being in your department who ae not asking to see you?”

Ruth Meighan - Former Immigration Director

“No I wasn’t.”

As you heard, one of the Ministers identified by Meighan is Corozal North Area Representative Hon. Hugo Patt. The two-term politician usually lays low, but on Friday we met him at a meeting between Ministry of Agriculture officials and onion farmers and we took the opportunity to ask him about his letters. Patt said that as far as he knows, there is nothing wrong with the practise and if there was anything wrong, he believes it is the responsibility of Immigration Department to carry out complete due diligence.

Screen_Shot_2017-02-13_at_8.09.17_PMHonourable Hugo Patt – Area Representative Corozal North

“As the Area Representatives we have a commitment to our constituents and so people come to us for many kinds of reasons and I will admit I did some recommendations, I don’t know that there is anything illegal in me giving a recommendation and if there is fundamentally politics in Belize is totally wrong, because as far as I can recall, as far as I can recall in terms of politics even my parents went to politicians for recommendations, I am sure that at the time they started and as far as I know myself in politics recommendations is an integral part of what we do and so if there is something that we did wrong we have to revisit the entire political arena and say look this is something that should be done and revisited it not only on the basis of one particular issue it has to be done comprehensively to eventually put an end to this particular issue.”


“The difference with some of the letters of recommendations that have been sighted in this hearing and just on a whole this issue is that the letters were related to persons who were not in Belize or at least not in Belize for the full five years, can you on the record that every letter of recommendation that you gave were for persons who you are sure met the requirements for which you were recommending?”

Honourable Hugo Patt – Area Representative Corozal North

“We did recommendations merely on the basis of asking for the process to follow, at no point in time can I tell anybody look you do not meet the criteria and you will get your documents in time, I don’t have that authority as much as did is accede to the mere request from them indicating that they wanted a recommendation letter and I can go on record indicating that at no time did my letters urge anybody, instructed anybody or authorized anybody to issue anything on my behalf, I perfectly realize that the relevant body in this is the Immigration department and the onus to check on whatever has to be done if at the end of the day checks and balances do not match it is their responsibility to say look you do not meet the requirements, I cannot go and tell the officers look this person does not meet the necessary criteria give them regardless I won’t do that.”

While Patt speaks of a clear conscience, a few of his political colleagues such as former Minister Elvin Penner could be accused of lacking any kind of principles. Penner who found a way to get illegal Belizean nationality and passport for South Korean Kim Won Hong who was languishing in a Taiwan prison. With that Belizean citizenship and identity, Hong attempted to fight extradition and triggered an international scandal.

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