Prime Minister Dean Barrow has fired Minister of State in the Immigration Ministry, Hon. Elvin Penner, but has refused to tell the nation exactly why he has taken this unprecedented step, except to say, in a press release issued today, Thursday, that Penner “did not discharge his responsibilities with either the due judgment and balance, or the scrupulous regard for appearances which the Prime Minister demands of all his Ministers.”
We say “fired,” but the Prime Minister preferred to say that he “required him [Penner] to resign,” and offered the crumb that the Immigration Ministry, under the portfolio of Hon. Godwin Hulse, and the Ministry of the Public Service “has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the issue of a Belize passport to a South Korean national.”
So, what has the Hon. Elvin Penner, representative for Cayo Northeast, really done? The Prime Minister would not answer this question put to him by the media. In his release, he would only say that the Immigration Ministry “would make a statement in the next day or so as to the results of that investigation,” even though Penner has been fired “with immediate effect.”
“After discussion with the Prime Minister, Penner agreed with the position put to him and tendered his immediate resignation,” the release indicated.
When Amandala today contacted the Government Press Office, which disseminated the information, we were told that there are no further details available on the dismissal at this point in time.
Amandala also contacted the Minister of Immigration, Hon. Godwin Hulse, who told us that he is not at liberty to speak on the matter at this time, but confirmed that Hon. Penner resigned from Cabinet.
However, in an interview with KREM News, Hulse indicated that there are other public officers in the Immigration Department who are being “thoroughly investigated” for possible involvement in scandals regarding passports.
The Immigration Minister said that they will be providing an update on the situation in a few days. This is because they want to be clear on exactly what was the role of the perpetrators who were a part of the passport scandal. He also mentioned that he is not able to comment on whether there will be any more “shakeups” within the Immigration Department at this time, since the investigations are still ongoing.
During the campaign leading up to the last general elections in March of 2012, Penner was heavily involved in the nationalization of potential voters in his constituency, even admitting that he had paid up to half of their registration fees, but clarified that he was following the proper procedures. He would go on to win those elections by only 17 votes, the thinnest margin of all the 31 constituency elections.
In any event, the mass nationalizations that hastily occurred prior to last year’s elections came under heavy public scrutiny.
There have also reportedly been multiple passport and visa scandals that have surfaced under Penner’s tenure, including an incident whereby a suspected member of Hezbollah had attained a Belizean passport in the name of a deceased toddler from Shipyard Village, in a matter of two days. The toddler had died 26years earlier.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow reportedly told the media, “I will say no more at this time, since there is an ongoing investigation that involves public officers. I cannot and will not run the risk of prejudicing that investigation by anything I might say. That is a matter for the Public Service Commission and the Immigration Ministry, and is subject to the Public Service Regulations and Procedure.”
We note, however, that Penner is not subject to any “Public Service Regulations and Procedure.”
In the meanwhile, Penner remains the area representative for the Cayo Northeast constituency.
In December of 2010, a Minister of State at the time, Hon. Edmund Castro, popularly known as “Clear the Land”, was dismissed from Cabinet by PM Barrow because he had “engaged in behavior inconsistent with the high standards of propriety to which the Prime Minister seeks to hold his ministers.” That came about after Castro had gotten into a tangle with a Belizean-American woman who had allegedly given him money for a parcel of land that she intended to purchase.
Also of note is that Hon. Mark King, Lake Independence area representative and Minister of State in the Ministry of Human Development, was suspended from Cabinet for three months for misconduct at the Corozal Free Zone earlier this year.