Features — 21 February 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

In an ironic twist of faith, three immigration officers are facing a Service Commission Tribunal to fight to clear their name and keep their job. Sharon Neal, Omar Phillips and Erwin Robinson appeared before the tribunal this week, and while they still wait to hear the verdict, the public has already issued their verdict against the one man who is yet to face the public, a tribunal, a commission of inquiry, a police investigation and a court. Elvin Penner seems to have become untouchable, despite his being at the centre of this most distasteful and embarrassing episode in our country’s history.

Penner on the prowl

What the bits and pieces coming out of the reports are showing is that EVERYONE in CABINET knew Penner was a dangerous man to officers at the immigration department, and there was reason for concern. I say this because of the following statement made by his Minister, Godwin Hulse, on February 17, 2014:

“…and I said Miss Neal, if it is God, if it is the Prime Minister, if it is no matter who it is ever comes with you with any nonsense including Minister Penner, please call me. I didn’t say brace them; I said call me and I will forthwith deal with it.”

So it seems the Minister knew that his public officers were being pressured by Ministers to expedite or do things contrary to protocol. It was so serious that he had to keep making himself available to intervene at the call of an officer. This is some serious confession. I say serious because he even makes specific mention of “including Minister Penner.” This means he, like others, knew Penner was on the prowl.

But stick a pin here, the paradox of the situation is that this same Minister Penner was allowed to sign off on these official documents granting nationality. According to PM Barrow, Penner asked him specifically to be put in charge of the Immigration Department. This wish was granted even after this January 18, 2012 interview by Penner, in which the true “leaning” of his heart was revealed as he discussed his massive registration of immigrant constituents:

“… I’ve always committed myself from day one when I got into politics that anybody who applied for their nationality, and they qualified, I would pay half of the cost. So, I am telling them that now as well. I will pay half of the cost of nationality. Of course, we do the police record on our own, so there is a cost. But it’s of course, two fold; there is a political reason behind it. We want to get our voters in. I won’t deny that any at all. I would wish that every politician in the country would do that because this really proves that you are pushing and going the extra mile for you to win your division.”

Now imagine, if he was not yet in office, not yet elected and not yet signing these nationality documents and doing this, clearly being facilitated by the immigration officers and his own Prime Minister and the rest of Cabinet turning a blind eye, why would he expect any less clout once he becomes the Minister? You see the whole Cabinet and its leader do not want to take responsibility for this writing on the wall … so now to bring it to an end the scapegoats need to be slaughtered.

Officers brought down

Now, let me make it clear that I in no way condone or would excuse the wrong-doing by any public officer in this or other scandal. Their acts in assisting, facilitating or condoning the wrong, even if the Minister asked, are totally wrong. My only sympathy with them is that it would be tragic that they are the officers brought down, when in the scheme of things they were the least powerful and were the ones most at risk, as is being proven. Recognizing that there was this danger over these workers, whom the employer must provide with a safe and wholesome workplace, I honestly wish more could and should have been done to remove the daily Ministerial pressure and maybe even financial temptations being presented.

Read carefully the words of Godwin Hulse given in that interview and consider what the work environment may have been at the Immigration Department and the fear under which these workers operate. The following is very telling coming from the mouth of the Minister responsible for Immigration, but whose signatory powers are given to his Minister of State:

“On Thursday the fifth of September at four-o-five exactly, I had Miss Marin, the Director—or the deputy, but she is holding director—the C.E.O., Miss Candelaria Saldivar, and Miss Sharon Neal in my office. The reason was, Miss Marin was going on a few days leave and would have returned on the Wednesday. So I brought Miss Neal in to make sure that she understood that she had my full, unequivocal support. Indeed in that discussion she said, Minister I am relieved because I wouldn’t want to have to put…and I said Miss Neal, if it is God, if it is the Prime Minister, if it is no matter who it is ever comes with you with any nonsense including Minister Penner, please call me. I didn’t say brace them; I said call me and I will forthwith deal with it….”

The forthwith dealing with Penner is yet to happen…. He was off a leash then and remains off a leash now! He is even being entertained to bring in investors and has at least one meeting with the Prime Minister, while the immigration officers’ meeting is with the Public Services Commission. How does any worker cope with this situation? How do you call one boss to tell on another boss? How do you assert your authority over a Minister who has full power over your department? How do you reach for the phone and tell, when that monster should have been removed from prowling a long time ago? And if you are already not liked, and take a stand, who will catch you when you are falling? Me, personally, I say have the fortitude to stand up, but some do not have that stamina, and so we should protect them, not put them in the shark-infested waters.

Put the brakes on Penner

So even Super Minister Godwin Hulse knew Penner was one of those he had to keep an eye on…he knew Penner would come with his “nonsense”. If he knew I say Cabinet had to have known, and if Cabinet knew, then the Prime Minister had to have known…. It was not a secret in those circles. It is some serious thing when Minister Hulse is now admitting that his junior Minister, who has responsibility for this very sensitive department, needs to be put on “brakes”. This sounds like an out of control train speeding along that needed to be stopped… but when? And why are you asking the subordinates to pull the brakes? Why didn’t the train driver pull the brakes?

Imagine, these are Minister Hulse’s words to Ms. Neal just before she is to temporarily take over the Department: “I said, ‘Put the brakes on the Minister, and I will deal with him in Cabinet.’ … so there is no excuse that there was pressure from any Minister because all they had to do is call me.”

Now, it is all making sense… if Godwin intended to deal with Penner at Cabinet, it appears to me that this is not the first time there has been a need to deal with this issue or this Minister at Cabinet. But since Cabinet carries the same code of conduct as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, a phrase coined by the PM himself, then it means that what happens in Cabinet stays in Cabinet. They seem to stick together and no one breaks ranks…. The only reason we getting bits and pieces is because Citizen Kim, like Aladdin, magically got his passport to help him magically fly out of jail.

It seems that reports were reaching Cabinet, and if the PM was hearing about the passport and visas, he had to be hearing about the nationality papers too. Remember these words: “I have heard that there are Ministers who are procuring visas for people. I have said pretty much every second Cabinet, if you are doing so, I have no proof, for God’s sake stop it, stop it! That is what will cause the government to fall.” PM Barrow October 10, 2013

Why Penner is not questioned?

There seems to have been lots of magical things happening at the Immigration Department. There is a procedure to be followed and when this is traced there seems only one big question to be answered: who gave the Minister the file to sign?

According to Minister Hulse, chief self-investigator, who already knew brakes had to be applied on Penner, he has been tracing what took place based on protocol: “I am going by the protocols and let me repeat for you categorically, Miss Pacheco received a file. A file was placed on Mister Wade’s desk—not fully completed—placed on Mister Wade’s desk. That’s a fact; that’s not fiction and from there somehow the Minister got a certificate to sign.

So why isn’t the Minister, Penner, being asked how he got a certificate to sign? Remember his e-mail to Channel 7? In it he stated that, he wanted to help a business person and personally went with Kim to the passport office to “see to it that he would get proper attention and would get his passport the same day.”

Helloooooo! Is the chief investigator listening? It is the Minister who wanted to ensure that his friend gets the passport the same day… but to get the passport the same day he needed to also get his nationality papers the same day. So then Penner needs to answer what he did and whom he made do it, to get all this in one day. And let us not forget that Penner did not deny back-dating the nationality certificate…. that, if not a fraud, at minimum is a mis-representation!

Then, let’s not forget his story of someone impersonating Kim Wong Hong. I say, he had to have seen that the picture used as Kim Wong Hong, who has receding hair, could never be the same man going to the Immigration Office with him, because said man looked younger and had a full head of hair.

I say the sudden willingness of Godwin Hulse to speak and reveal information about the public officers and the frenzy created around the Public Services Commission hearing is a red-herring to make it seem something is being done, while the big fish keep living large! If these officers are fired, I hope like Penner, they are still allowed to show up at work, use the work vehicle, collect their salary and sit around with their colleagues…. After all, if Penner can, they can too, because all are equal before the law. And the new law is that “you are fired” means fired like Penner!

To all public officers I say, stand against corruption, don’t get sucked in, because no matter how much you help the Minister and how much you are “tight” with them, when they need someone to hang out to dry, it will not be them, but you. Also as a form of moral suasion, I think we need to amend our laws to make it criminal when public officers assist and facilitate these wrongs, so they think twice before they act. In that way their least problem is the Public Service Commission…. And maybe then they will not be afraid to “brakes the Minister”!

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