Features — 08 November 2013 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“…the problem with our governance process is the overwhelming importance given to party interest over what is right and just.”

Godwin Hulse

It is amazing how our leaders fail to realize that in every way they must be accountable to us the people and that includes facing the media and giving answers. However, it seems we have Houdini’s in the Government, not Ministers of Government, since the two most recent incidents prove that not only passports are disappearing, but even our government officials are doing the disappearing act.

So let’s put a microscope on the situation and trace what is going on. And let’s determine if the actions of our Honorable Prime Minister and his Minister of State were right to avoid the media and, by extension, us the people.

Tarmac disappearing act

So only a few have ever been able to drive on the tarmac and much less to greet an incoming flight, but then again few have so much to hide and avoid. Belize’s Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, had been in the US for more than a week and during that time, as we say in Creole, “hell bruk loose” as more became known about the Penner passport scandal and then the bomb was dropped … a courier of passports named her alleged source and Edmund Castro’s name became recorded as the person she fingered.

It’s been almost three months since we first learnt that Citizen Kim, sitting in a prison in Taiwan, was able, without ever visiting Belize, to gain Belizean nationality and a passport in just hours … INCREDIBLE! The Belizean public and media refuse to make this just pass us by without answers, and so whom else to ask and hold accountable but our beloved PM – after all, he is never short of words and even has an opinion on factual and legal evidence and if Penner has suffered enough.

He is the man who knows to meet the media, chat up Jules Vasquez, chastise Marisol Amaya and low-rate anyone who dares to demand a straightforward answer for a change. He is not afraid, and like the big bad wolf he can chew up the media and spit them out. But that all seemed to have changed on October 25th when the PM “skidooed” past the media and thus evaded giving an answer? Now he is being spat out by the media, who since his return over two weeks now have not been able to get an answer out of him. Hmmm! Is this the same, in your face, assertive PM? Or has something gone wrong? Is it that he sees that these scandals will indeed bring down his Government?

The vehicle on the airport tarmac was his saving grace from avoiding the media, but cannot be the situation for long. He must answer to us the people … after all when he campaigned on the principles of transparency, that included being available and accessible to the people, even if only through the mass media! Even if he did not have all the answers, the PM, like a big boy could have put on his big boy trousers and told the media he would not comment prematurely as he needs time to hear it all … but he chose to be Houdini and that does not augur well with the masses!

Magically setting the example

Having seen the PM set the standard of how to avoid the media, public scrutiny and being accountable and transparent to the electorate, it came as no surprise to me that the most junior Minister of State, Edmund Castro, followed his example and did the same when he too did his Houdini act from the airport tarmac. What happens at the top trickles to the bottom. Now remember, Castro was out of the country in Miami when the news broke out that he allegedly facilitated some 200 visa applications for a fee of Bz$2,000.00 each. This was a personal handling fee, not a fee which forms part of the government revenue. These are some serious allegations. Castro gave one telephone interview denying it, then later that day the story changed to him knowing his accuser and being signatory to one such recommendation. Then by the time the press release was issued after his return the number signed by him stood at five. I say, be it one or five or two hundred, I want to know if he really knew these people he recommended? This is especially important to know since they are Asians and his constituency is not an Asian constituency. And, if he did not know them, what was the incentive he had to do such a great favor for five strangers who are not even his constituents?

These are, to repeat, some serious allegations made against Castro and he owes it to us to explain, but he did not. Rather he followed in the footsteps of his leader and had his vehicle meet him on the tarmac and sped off. Oddly, Castro wanted to tantalize the media and blew them a kiss … he better be careful as they could, in their turn, be blowing him a farewell kiss sometime soon.

Sadly, when it’s time to assure us that the scandal will see changes that will convict wrong doers and exonerate those wrongly vilified, the PM and his Minister of State backed out on us. I could understand them being sick over the idea of having to give answers; but no more sick than us the people who still cannot see anyone being held responsible for first passports and now visas!

Integrity also disappearing

One more man who is also held responsible for the abuse of office and the trade in our citizenship and passports is Senator Godwin Hulse, who again pulled off a stunt that makes me know Houdini is no rival to Hulse. What has caused the Godwin of old to disappear like a magic trick and the new one to surface and contradict the banished one?

I mean that Hulse can no longer stand on the integrity he had professed because he now has a puppetmaster and has to move according to his strings being pulled. The recent Senate vote, in which Godwin Hulse voted against a Senate inquiry into the passport scandal, says it all to me and, whoever needs further confirmation can go seek it.

Two major things happened in the Senate:

1. Godwin forgot all his pontification over how we are governed and what the powers of the Senate are etc., etc.

2. He participated in a breach of the already not adequate rules and standing orders of the Senate and clearly he did it to hush the immigration investigation.

Recently, I read a post by Nuri Muhammad and here is produced an excerpt for my readers’ consideration: “…But Godwin also has to restore trust in his integrity as Godwin, the beacon light of change—he has to reclaim that image. Will he go along with the same ole same ole politics that he has criticized for decades and fall in line and toe the party line? In his last appearance on the Belize Watch series “How we are governed” along with Henry Gordon, Godwin said, ‘the problem with our governance process is the overwhelming importance given to party interest over what is right and just’.”

Sorry Godwin, you only said that then: you are now enjoying too much the shield of the political party and have toed the line. If I had any doubts, the vote at the Senate speaks volumes, when as the Leader of Government Business he voted NOT to have a Senate investigation. When he was a Business Senator, he would vote many times how he, Godwin, wanted, and when he voted contrary to what he wanted he would express his personal view … he wouldn’t dare do that now and he has cowered to the “overwhelming importance given to party interest over what is right and just”!

The magic of an unconstitutional vote

To add injury to Godwin insulting our intelligence, he actively participated in a process which he with all his genius must know is contrary to our Constitution, which he once zealously defended. AMAZING!

Belize Constitution at Section 61(3) states: “(3) The President of the Senate shall have a casting vote in the event of an equality of votes in respect of any business at a meeting of the Senate:

Provided that if the President of the Senate-

(a) is a Senator, he shall have an original but not a casting vote, and

(b) is not a Senator, he shall not have a vote, when the Senate is deciding on any matter referred to in Section 61A (2)(d) of this Constitution.

And 61A (2)(d) deals with the Senate powers to “(d) instituting and conducting inquiries and investigations on any matter of public interest or importance, including inquiries into mismanagement or corruption by persons in the central government or public statutory bodies…”

So President Marco Pech did not have a vote – be it original or casting, because the Senate was deciding an issue under Section 61A(2)(d), an investigation into the Penner passport scandal which is a matter of public interest and a matter dealing with corruption by a person in central government itself.

So it turns out that not only did Godwin vote against the Senate inquiry because he has a serious conflict of interest, he did so because to vote yes, would mean to vote to have himself under scrutiny. So as to protect his self-interest he sanctioned an unconstitutional move. Below is the script of the proceedings at the Senate for Wednesday, November 6, 2013:

Marco Pech, President, Senate

“Senators, I’ll read the…the outcome of the division and this is the outcome. Six senators in favor and seven against. So I think the NOs have it.”

Lisa Shoman

“No Mister President, you don’t have a casting vote. It is six-six. There may be a deadlock, but under the constitution of Belize, you don’t have a casting vote with all due respect.”

Marco Pech

“I recognize the Leader of Government Business.”

Godwin Hulse, Senator for Government Business

“Mister President, I move that the Senate now do adjourn.”

I guess nothing amazes me anymore about so many in government, but especially my dear friend Godwin Hulse, who helped the President ignore Senator Shoman. As if she never made an objection, he moved for an adjournment … totally unconcerned that the President acted unconstitutionally when he entered his casting vote, which is not allowable for this type of issue.

The Godwin of today participates in wrong-doing for the better interest of the party that gave him the appointment and thus the power … is this what the Godwin of old would have done?

Call me a cynic but I believe leopards don’t change their spots … so in my humble view this was Godwin’s cut of his jib all along, and his spots are only now showing from under the disguise he had it. Nuri writes: “ No other Minister would have gone into over-drive, spending the enter weekend in the Department of Immigration following the paper trail looking for further evidence on Penner. When he found enough evidence he presented it to the Prime Minister to await his decision.”

I disagree with Nuri about his motives because had it been to truly root out the corruption he would have excluded himself from the vote in the Senate, because of his obvious conflict of interest and bias to himself, but he didn’t. Did we really expect Godwin to vote against Godwin’s self-interest for a move that can make or break him and his government? Also, tracking evidence of Penner is not to me a guarantee that it’s evidence against Penner he was seeking but it may be to keep even his own recommendations, if any, under cover or to avoid exposing his ineptitude at keeping Penner accountable and in check.

Like the mastery of magic of the great Houdini, our Ministers are disappearing so as not to speak to us via the media, and for some their credibility, reputation and integrity as well are disappearing and not even Houdini can make these re-appear. Belizeans must keep on demanding and the media must keep on questioning about this issue so that it too does not just disappear from our sight!

God bless Belize!

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