BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. Apr. 26, 2017–In her audit of the Immigration Department, Auditor General Dorothy Bradley opined that the procedures at the department were ruled by UDP “Ministerial Interference,” which led to massive irregularities.
During today’s Senate hearing with retired Immigration officer of thirty years, Therese Chavarria, it was revealed that the interference of former National Security Minister and current Cabinet Secretary, Carlos Perdomo, led to a shady applicant receiving a passport on the basis of a possibly fraudulent birth certificate in 2011.
According to Chavarria, she refused to grant the passport to the applicant claiming to be Paul Ku, and that was when she was allegedly offered $500 to process it by a Justice of the Peace (JP) identified as Reina Chiu Hsiang Lo.
However, Chavarria reportedly declined that JP’s bribe and went on vacation. Upon her return from vacation, she was informed by former Immigration Director Ruth Meighan that Minister Perdomo had instructed that the passport be issued to the applicant.
Here is a verbatim transcript of what Chavarria said: “…I don’t know how they got hold of the birth certificate, but that birth certificate was issued at the Vital Statistics and the young man [of primary school age] came to the office. He was accompanied by one known to us by Ms. Reina [Chiu Hsiang Lo]. She was frequently at the Immigration Office, so all the officers or most of the officers know Ms. Reina [Chiu Hsiang Lo], and that young man was brought into the office.
“He was escorted by Ms. Reina [Chiu Hsiang Lo]. She spoke on his behalf. She translated while he was doing the data. Translation was made [for him] to put his finger for the fingerprint and translation was made for him to do his signature. I observed and I waited until the data was done and I asked her to bring the young man to my office. I tried to interview, but the interview was unsuccessful.
“I asked where was he born, and he could not answer, because she claimed that the young man attended school in Belize City at St. John’s School on Euphrates. I asked what was the name of your school? He could not answer. Can you give me one teacher who taught you in primary school? He could not answer. Can you give me the name of the street where your school is? He could not answer.
“So I told Ms. Reina [Chiu Hsiang Lo] that this passport cannot be issued.
“I said I need to do some investigation and I held the application; of course, it will not be approved. I held the application, I went to the school. I spoke to the principal; I asked her if she could check for me. I gave her two years — the years I thought the child was registered. Could you check for me to see if this child was registered at your school? She said yes. I asked, ‘when can I have an answer?’ She said she’d give me the following week.
“Of course, the following week I went on leave and she did not respond, so I made it clear to all the officers in the printing section that this passport cannot be printed. I thought about it and I said I’m going on vacation, I didn’t want to leave this application. I took it from the drawer and I told the officers I am going to take this application home, this application cannot be issued.
“But before that, when I told Ms. Reina [Chiu Hsiang Lo] this passport could not be issued right now, she left 500 dollars on my desk. I told her ‘No, I cannot take your five hundred dollars, we need to investigate your application.’
“I took the application home and on my return, I guess, after about 6 or 8 weeks on my return from vacation, that was one of the first things I checked. Before I checked, I asked Mr. Arzu — he was the person at the Belize City Immigration Office. I asked him to check and verify for me with the Vital Stats to whom this number birth certificate belonged, and while he was checking, of course, I check with my staff. I found out the passport was already issued.
“Apparently, Ms. Reina came back to the office with another application, with another birth certificate, and the officer who was left in charge accordingly got permission from the Director to issue that passport. So on my return, I learnt that the passport was issued.”
According to Chavarria, when the Director confirmed to her that the Minister had instructed that the passport be issued, she was, “appalled,” because, “the Minister normally would not give such instruction.”
Here is the verbatim transcript of that revelation:
Senator Eamon Courtenay: “What the Auditor General is saying is that Ms. [Therese] Chavarria was told by the Director [Ruth Meighan] that she was instructed by [former Minister] Mr. Carlos Perdomo to process the passport. First of all, do you recall Ms. Ruth Meighan telling you that?”
Chavarria: “Yes, she did mention that.”
Courtenay: “And you do recall telling that to the Auditor General’s team?”
Courtenay: “Did that cause you any concern that the Director is telling you that the Minister instructed that the passport be issued?”
Chavarria: “Yes, I was very much appalled by that.”
In her testimony, Chavarria said that she emailed a report of this incident to Meighan and copied it to the Chief Executive Officer at the time.
However, Meighan was allegedly upset with this decision.
“…She mentioned that ‘it seems you are being mischievous; you wrote a copy to the CEO, all of you in Immigration have that nasty habit of writing carbon copies to the CEO’,” Chavarria recalled Meighan telling her.
According to the former Immigration officer, this was not the first time an individual attempted to bribe her. She recalled that she had an individual in Dangriga charged for that attempt.
However, in this case, she was unable to take action against Reina Chiu Hsiang Lo because she had left the money on her desk and quickly walked away. Those monies were reportedly handed to the Immigration Department’s finance officer.