It’s open season on politicians to testify before the Senate Select Committee inquiry, or so it seems, as two more Cabinet Ministers under the Barrow Administration sat before the Senate Select Committee to give testimony about their involvement in matters which the Auditor General’s special audit classified as irregularities.
Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation Manuel Herredia and Minister of Works Rene Montero took turns to present their version of what took place at Immigration while also fielding questions. Herredia appeared in the morning and first tackled questions about the note in the report that he was moving with visa stickers between San Pedro and Belmopan, a kind of express delivery service which the Auditor General’s report has flagged. Herredia claimed he was simply helping his constituents.
The next matter was not so simple for the Minister to explain. It is about his letters of recommendation for applications for nationality from members of the Lebanese Harmouche family, who are now residents of San Pedro which is in Herredia’s Belize Rural South constituency. The Auditor General’s report has raised a number of questions regarding the application files, claiming that some did not qualify for processing. When asked why he had endorsed applicants that did not meet the legal requirements, he claimed it was the job of Immigration officials to deny the request.
One of the specific application files reviewed by the Auditor General auditors for one Samir Harmouche noted that the applicant did not meet the residency requirement for nationality as two Lebanese passports were seen in the file, and they had conflicting entry dates into Belize. One passport said 2006 while the other said 2010. The report pointed out that the date accepted might have been invalid. Additionally, the audit found no oath of allegiance for the applicant who appears in the nationality register as of January 2012.