Former Minister of Immigration Elvin Penner appeared before the Senate Select Committee today in what many may say is a daring act considering the scandals that have piled up on him during his tenure as Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration.
But while Penner did not snub the invitation to appear before the investigating committee or shy away from the questioning the real issue was what he was willing to talk about. Although he didn’t have legal representation beside him, Penner was very prepared to take on the Senate Committee and basically, suggest the limitations of what he was prepared to talk about. According to Penner, any matter which he has been acquitted of or may incriminate him was off the table. He read a prepared statement at the start of the session, laying out his ground rules.
Elvin Penner - Former Minister of Immigration and Nationality
“Thanks for affording me the opportunity to address this esteemed body, I appear here today in response to an invitation that was extended to me last week and must welcome the opportunity to assist the committee, I must however read into records a number of pertinent facts; On the 27th of March 2014 I was summoned to appear in the Belmopan Magistrate Court to answer to the following charged, (1) making a statement which I know to be false in material particular contrary to section 22 of the Belize nationality Act Chapter 61 of the laws of Belize Revised Edition 2003. (2) Vouching the fitness of an applicant to receive a Belizean passport contrary to Section 3 (1H) of the passport chapter 164 of the laws of Belize revised edition 2003, both charges were related to the application of South Korean National Wong Hong Kim, the matter proceeded to trial on the 24th of July 2014 and I was found not guilty of the charges. The decision of the learned Magistrate decision was appealed by way of inferior court of appeal #81 of 2014 where the Honourable Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin presided, the appeal was dismissed and the learned Chief Justice affirmed my acquittal, it is most worthy that the invitation extended to me was under the provisions of the legislative assembly powers and privileges, ordinances accented to on the 12th of October 1962 I hereby make my appearance after being assured that the said ordinance is still in effect and is so approved by the Supreme Court of Belize in the case of action #496 of 2006 Narda Garcia versus Senator Godwin Hulse and the Court of Appeal of Belize and Civil Appeal #5 of 1994 Vernon Harrison Courtney versus Lutcham Sutnandam, section 13 (1) of the said Ordinances provides as follows: Every person summons to attend to give evidence or to produce any paper, book, record or document before the Assembly or a Committee shall therefore be entitled in respect to such evidence or the disclosure of any communication or the production of any such paper before book, record or document to the same right and privilege as before a court of law having duly been acquitted by a Court in Belize the Wong Hong Kim episode is to be ordered as a close chapter as all lawyers will say rest judicata and I will not be responding to any questions relating to that issue or to any related issue which could have been the subject of the criminal prosecution that concluded on the 24th of July 2014 in this regard, I pray the protection of Section 6 (5) of the constitution of Belize, it has to be of some importance that under the evidence act chapter 95 of the laws of Belie there is no provision to propel a witness to answer questions related to his or her acquittal there are provision however that allows for the questioning of witnesses in certain instances to be questioned about a prior conviction C-Section 68 (E1, 2, 3) in addition the privileges provided under section 60 (1) of the evidence act chapter 95 of the laws of Belize will also be relied upon in regards to a certain portion of my testimony if appropriate this provides protection against self-incrimination, having laid out the rights and privileges afforded to me under the law I am now prepared to respond any questions that are legally permissible and questions that are relevant to the findings of the Auditor General Special Report period 2011/2013.”
But Chairman Aldo Salazar, who is an attorney-at-law, was not impressed by Penner’s submission and tried to give advice to the former politician about what can or cannot be allowed and what will be the consequences if any witnesses refused to answer questions. Still, Penner insisted that he will keep quiet about certain matters, even if it means facing perjury charges and facing up to two years jail-time.
Aldo Salazar – Chairman Special Senate Select Committee
“I do not feel that you can pray in aid of that privilege and that it prevents you from having to respond to any of the questions post to you here today relating to the Wong Hong Kim matter or any other matter which is the subject which is referred to in the report of the Auditor General and I will tell you why, in my view there is one thing right in what you’ve said is that the legislative powers and privileges ordinance is enforced and you are given privileged as a witness before a court but that privilege does not extend to refusing to answer any questions and if you look at the same provisions which I am referring to the same ordinance which you referred to in Section 12; it says that the Committee is empowered to order the attendance of witnesses, any matter and things related to subject of the Inquiry before the Assembly or such committee be verified otherwise ascertain by oral examination of witnesses and my cause any such witnesses to be examined upon oath which the Chairman of the Committee or other persons especially appointed for that purpose of the Assembly or by such Committees here authorized to administer and more pertinent is 13 which says that, where any person order to give evidence or to produce any paper, book record or document before the Assembly refused to answer any question can maybe put to him or to produce any such paper, book or document on the ground of the same is of a private nature and does not affect the subject of the Inquiry, the speaker may excuse the answering of such question or reproduction of such paper, book or document or order the answering or production thereof, so in my view the only legitimate reason for you to refuse to answer any question is whether it is not a matter which is subject of this inquiry and even in that case.”
Aldo Salazar – Chairman Special Senate Select Committee
“These questions are not related to any acquittal, we are not asking you reasons for your acquittal so there is no questions we put to you related to your acquittal before the magistrate or the proceedings in the Supreme Court. You also speak about the constitutional provision, the constitutional provision can only be called upon where you are subject of a criminal investigation or a criminal process, this committee cannot find you guilty of any criminal wrong doing so this evidence cannot lead to any criminal finding by us the only thing that can come from this, in terms of criminal proceedings is the issue of perjury, now there are in fact sanctions which am not certain but I can say the last time I looked at it I believe it is two years imprisonment so you would either have to tell us why we must not find your refusal to answer questions put to you as a violation of this provisions which are sanction able by imprisonment or you can choose to answer the questions if you wish.”
Elvin Penner - Former Minister of Immigration
“I’ve gotten very competent legal advice before coming here and I will stick to the advice of my legal Attorney, am not sure I quite understand why you are saying that those privileges that I referred to do not extend to me with regards to the Senate Inquiry but if I read the last section of the first paragraph of the invitation letter that I was given, the last sentence which reads: You may be accompanied by a legal representative and are entitled in respect to such evidence or the disclosure of any communication or the production of any document to the same right or privilege as before a court of law so if these privileges that I had mentioned in my opening statement are privileges that are extended to me in a court of law according to this they will also in that regards have to be extended to me in this Special Senate Select Committee, my decision will be to stick to what I said in my opening statement that I will not answer questions that I don’t think I am legally required to answer and I will not answer questions that are not relevant to the Special Report of the Auditor General. If the decision of this Special Senate Select Committee will be to levy a charge against me for that I am prepared to answer to those charges in a competent court of law.”