BELIZE CITY, Fri. July 29, 2016–Rebuffing calls for the removal of Belize’s National Security Minister and the United Democratic Party representative for Belmopan, Hon. John Saldivar, from Cabinet, Prime Minister Dean Barrow indicated at a press conference held this evening that Saldivar—accused of having an unseemly association with the man identified as William Mason, implicated in the recent murder and beheading of Pastor Llewellyn Lucas— will not be axed from Cabinet unless there is material evidence on the basis of which to do so.
The Mason-Saldivar connection: how far did it go?
About two years ago, Mason reportedly got a renewed passport from Guyana in the name Rajesh Ouelette—an unusual name for a Guyanese. He has claimed to have had a name change from Persaud to Oulette. In Belize, ranking ministers of Government, including Saldivar, came to know him as William Mason. His true identity remains in question.
After Mason was indicted in court a few weeks ago, along with 4 of his associates, his relationship with certain ministers of government began to be called into question, particularly his connection to the Minister of National Security, who presides over the Police Department, which is in charge of the Mason investigation.
Saldivar has confirmed that Mason donated money to his football team – the Belmopan Bandits, but it has since been alleged that Saldivar received much more money from Mason than has been disclosed.
Saldivar told the press that when he was warned about Mason, who has been accused of being a scam artist, he ended his relationship with him. Saldivar said that he severed ties with him last September.
Superintendent Mark Flowers, former Commander of the Gang Suppression Unit, who said he was investigating Mason “undercover,” challenged Saldivar’s disclosures, saying that he got much more money from Mason than he had disclosed to the press.
Among those calling for Saldivar’s removal is the Opposition People’s United Party. The Opposition is also calling for an independent investigation into the matter—a call which the Government has, likewise, rejected.
Barrow’s statements to the press today indicated that that none will be forthcoming—not until there is “real evidence” supplied to the Prime Minister.
Barrow told the press, “…as of now, I have not been provided with any material that would cause me to feel that a summary decision must be made with respect… to the removal of John Saldivar from the Cabinet. We have not reached that point at this juncture.”
Flowers says he has the evidence
One man who has said that he is willing to provide that evidence is Mark Flowers.
“Whatever evidence he says he has, let that evidence come forward,” said Barrow.
He indicated that he would consider meeting Flowers, who was bailed Friday after having been remanded on allegations that he had sex with a minor who is now pregnant; however, he would not meet with Flowers if the reason for the meeting is to discuss his court case.
Flowers,who has maintained his innocence,has claimed that he has “the goods”not just on Saldivar—but on other government officials as well.
Barrow said that having been charged with a crime, “…it is clear that he [Flowers] has an axe to grind,” but Barrow said that he is not concluding that, as a consequence of that axe, that Flowers would manufacture things against public officials.
“That is very much an open question,” he added.
“I’m not going to close my eyes to any material that might be forthcoming that will serve to clarify circumstances. I am not going to be heedless. Listen, I am not here to defend any minister who may be guilty of anything…. And if I can, in fact, come into possession of that sort of evidence, you can take it to the bank that I will act, absolutely,” Barrow said.
Barrow has told the press that he had asked every member of his Cabinet if they had dealings with Mason, and after the disclosures were made, only Dangriga area representative Frank “Pawpa” Mena admitted to having received campaign financing from Mason, although others have said that they had met him and visited his home on Intelco Hill in the Belize District.
Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber confirmed that he went to Mason’s home for congratulatory drinks at his ascension to the new office when he was sworn in on June 7, 2016.
As for Saldivar, he told Barrow that their relationship was severed 9 months earlier, when he found out that “Mason was at the very least a con man.” Barrow said that if it is revealed that Saldivar maintained a relationship with Mason well past September, the alleged cutoff point, “then certainly there will be an explanation that I would require from the minister.”
Is cleaning up corruption “wishful thinking”?
Barrow indicated that there is and perhaps always will be corruption in Government, and they are “always on the lookout for corruption.”
“Of course there is corruption in government. There has always been corruption in government; there will always be corruption in government. It is my job to try and ensure that I do all I can to keep corruption at a minimum, to try to eliminate it—which really is perhaps wishful thinking,” he told the press.
Although Barrow told the media that “Minister Saldivar is at this moment in good standing,” he later added that “…the situation is clearly still evolving.”