BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Thurs. Oct. 12, 2017–The special audit of the Immigration Department revealed numerous illegalities that were committed between 2011 and 2013. Former and current UDP Cabinet ministers, UDP mayors and UDP associates, as well as senior immigration officers, have been mentioned by the audit.
However, after more than 30 sittings of the Senate Select Committee tasked with investigating the findings of the audit over almost a year, “nothing has happened.”
According to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in the Ministry of Immigration, Edmund Zuniga, his ministry has done its part, but the Police Department and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution have not done the same.
“We’ve seen lots of wrongdoings in these reports,” Business Senator, Mark Lizarraga, told CEO Zuniga during Wednesday’s sitting of the Senate Select Committee. “What are you doing about those wrongdoings that have been highlighted?” he asked.
CEO Zuniga (who incidentally was once Belize’s Auditor General) responded: “We’ve reviewed the reports with that in mind. I would say that at this point in time, some of the actions that can be taken were already taken. There were public officers in the Immigration Department who were taken before the Public Services Commission. But of course, we all know the outcome of those meetings with the Public Services Commission.”
“When an Auditor General’s report is completed and there are issues of fraud or theft or whatever, those reports are copied to the Commissioner of Police and the Director of Public Prosecutions for them to start doing their own part of the investigation,” CEO Zuniga went on to say. “Now whether or not that happened, in this case I don’t know…while we will do some investigation, or while we have done some investigation at the level of the ministry and the department, real investigation for fraud is a matter for the law enforcement agencies,” he commented.
“The Director of Immigration or even the CEO of Immigration can’t really give directions to the Commissioner of Police,” he said.
Senator Lizarraga suggested that the Ministry should invite the police to look into the matter.
CEO Zuniga replied that, “it’s a matter for the police to take the initiative once the report has been passed to them.”
“Based on what you have seen, CEO, would you agree that the cases that the Auditor General raises need investigation?” Senator Lizarraga asked.
“Certainly, the Auditor General’s recommendations should not be taken lightly by anybody,” CEO Zuniga agreed.
Senator Lizarraga asked if the investigations should have commenced already.
CEO Zuniga maintained that, “it is up to the Commissioner of Police to instruct or to take on investigations without prompting from anybody.”
After the Senate Select Committee completes its sittings and suspends its investigations into the audit, it is to compile and publish a final report on its findings after interviewing key persons.
When Senator Lizarraga asked CEO Zuniga if he had heard that the police were waiting for the committee’s report before taking action, CEO Zuniga conceded that point.
After that exchange, Senator Lizarraga again asked, “Do you think, CEO, that you should have perhaps prompted and said, ‘look, after you [the police] read this …’ a gentle reminder or something to that effect…?”
In response to that, CEO Zuniga said, “Well, I have not given the police any reminders of what their function is. Let me just put it that way.”
Wednesday was the 36th sitting of the Senate Select Committee.