Features — 25 October 2013 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“Countries internationally have special programs whereby they allow foreigners to get expedited citizenship or residence based on investments which they make in those countries and they do it for two reasons; those people have the capital, those people have the expertise, technology and those people have access to markets…My own experience is that people want to come to Belize to live, to do business… they want to invest in the country and if a way could be found to make those people come, it would help us in terms of capital, it will help us in terms of technology, It will also help us in terms of markets.” (Sedi Elrington’s pro-economic citizenship pitch October 17, 2013 in a press interview.)

You know, ever since I heard about this economic citizenship programme in the early 90’s, the justification has been: transfer of technology to our people; much needed investment to stimulate the economy; access to markets worldwide for us; and revenue into our treasury. Thus, what Minister Elrington is saying is recycled verbiage. You know, I was young and foolish then to believe these lies, but now after 20 years let’s examine the bullshit we have been fed and let us assess if the sale of our birthright for 30 pieces of silver has indeed brought us these things. Better yet, after two decades, can Minister Elrington or any government official show us how 20 years of sale has given us the technology, investment, markets and revenue? Why are they desperate to sell our birthright and passports?

What technology?

The only technology we have received is the advanced immigration machines imposed on us by the great USA because those falsely claiming Belizean nationality are only using Belize as a stepping stone to America. Show me the technology any of those paying for our passports has introduced into this country… Technology of slot machines, yes, they brought that; technology of digitized boledo, yes, they brought that too; technology of sweat-shops, yes, they brought that too.

Let me stick a pin here. In the early 90’s when I was a news reporter, I will never forget the Chinese sweat-shop operating out of Belmopan, doing garments and taking advantage of our women workers. The women unionized and demanded better pay and treatment. The government was in collusion with the “investors” and “baga-dam boom,” the factory closed, refusing to compensate the women. Yet, in no time they re-opened in Belize City under a new name. What technology did they bring? Belize already had sewing machines but we did not have sweat-shops, and they tried to introduce that! Is that what our government, and especially our Foreign Minister, desperately want to sell our passports for again?

Rather, some of their ideas of technology seek to destroy already existing natural and organic ways of life for Belizeans. How many are old enough to remember how the introduction of Tilapia fish by foreign investors attacked our local fish industry and still did not bring the promised jobs? Instead of us seeking to protect our natural fish habitat to feed ourselves, Tilapia farming is our consolation. That is the Minister’s idea of development.

Where is the Investment money?

So these persons buying out our nationality and having a claim on our passports, were supposed to be bringing investment into our country. Now, I don’t know about other Belizeans but when I hear about investment coming, I do not think about them coming to do in Belize what Belizeans are already doing, but rather bringing a new kind of investments. So let’s look critically at what type of investment our economic citizens have brought:

1. Supermarkets – Belizeans already had these and many have been forced to close down because they are unable to compete with the Asian “investors,” who also bring their own employees with minimal jobs going to our local people;

2. Mom & Pop stores – well, the plethora of grocery stores owned by Asians have forced the local Belizeans out of business. Their ability to pull together to buy one big bulk and undersell the local shops have forced Mom and Pop to close shop. It’s like a Mafia of shops;

3. Boledo – well, ironically this traditional lottery was owned by the government and local Belizeans were agents getting a commission – yet one of the Chinese business persons, who owns the hangout spot of the UDP politicians, controls it and his district agents are Asians again;

4. Tourism – well when it comes to the hotels now being built, they go against the eco-friendly tourism that had been planned for this country … so again it’s mostly only non-Belizeans who own these. The foreign investor, however, is even creating the huge tour operations to the exclusion of the small Belizean tour guide … now with the cruise industry taking over, well, if the statistics are checked Belizeans again are excluded, especially as owners;

5. Restaurants – some Belizeans are still fighting to provide local cuisines, but the lure of fast food places such as Lee Chee, Kick-Down and the like, makes it a tough battle as poorer Belizeans opt to eat the cheap, greasy, MSG-laden chicken, that is more cancer-causing than healthy.

The list can go on and on … but I am sure readers get the point! So don’t try and justify to me the selling of our nationality and passports on the basis of investment. The first set of Asians brought under the programme never brought the technology and investment promised. Further, you DO NOT NEED Belizean nationality to be able to invest in Belize … And if this argument were true, then why Huang Maoru, the so-called richest Belizean on the Forbes List, hasn’t brought some of that wealth and investment to Belize? He has not even visited Belize: our passport is just an option of convenience for him. So sorry, but our Foreign Minister needs to stop talking nonsense!

Worldwide markets

It seems the only markets opened up to us with our sale of passports are the black markets. As far as I am aware the sale of our nationality is illegal, at least that is the policy I last heard about. If Cabinet voted to change it, forgive me, but I am not aware of it! So any sale of our passports is on the black market, a worldwide black market I must add!

Again, I don’t want to get personal with our Foreign Minister, but that same bullshit expounded some decades ago to justify the sale of our passports did not work then, when it was made a legalized enterprise, and it surely is not working now, whether legal or illegal. Let us not forget that the worldwide recognition we have right now is that a South Korean, a sought-after fugitive jailed in a Taiwanese prison, was seeking to use an illegally obtained Belizean citizenship and passport to evade deportation to South Korea where he is now facing charges of embezzlement of millions of dollars.

So across the globe we have trivialized our citizenship. But why would the Foreign Minister be advocating the legalized sale of passport even after knowing that suspicion has befallen his own Ministry? Is it to legitimize a rampant act that for now is still under the covers? I am sorry but the common sense in me is making his rationale seem too suspect. No, let’s make sense out of nonsense: we did this before, the “legal” way, and to date we do not have their technology, investment or worldwide market promised to us then to prove the Minister’s argument. Legalizing it would only be so that the politicians and their cronies legally benefit from a corrupt system to their enrichment.

Let me remind those who forgot and those not old enough to remember. When this was tried, special Belizeans became agents, so the ones making the money were not us, the average citizens: it was the attorneys, accountants, and special appointees and then the foreign agents working in the worldwide markets. Even then the processes put in place were being violated to speed up the money grabbing. Don’t forget why it had to be stopped. Readers, DO NOT FOOL YOURSELVES … The promotion of this program is not for money to be made by the country, but rather for money to be made by a few.

Money in our treasury!

The only treasury that was really seeing the money was the personal bank accounts of the select special few. The average Belizean did not qualify to become such agents. Sad but true, it was a legal hustle then and that would not change now. Both a PUP and a UDP government have tried it both the legal and illegal way, and neither has been able to bring the country out of economic woes via this program. Yet people like the Foreign Minister hope to persuade the unsuspecting. This sounds like they are desperate to sell our birthright and passports. They prostitute our citizenship, give persons who never set foot in our now tarnished Jewel, the right to claim heritage and legacy in our Barrier Reef, Mayan temples, rainforest, and all that God has naturally bestowed on us. They are able to run for certain political offices and if we had not fought back this government, PM Barrow and the Foreign Minister would have passed Constitutional amendments to make it legit for dual citizens to run for political office at the national level … Now it is all making sense … this would be an additional incentive for the purchasers of our passports!

I don’t want to believe that a political party I once so passionately supported and fought for would stoop to these levels. I’m glad I walked away, but they must be happier than I that I walked away because I would have exposed their corruption as I exposed the PUP then too. How could they become so rotten, corrupt like the vilified PUP? Maybe it was envy of the PUP enrichment they were suffering from. Which party will absolutely denounce the sale of our birthright and commit to make it a criminal offence with imprisonment for life if found guilty of such offence? Now these are the constitutional amendments the former landslide government of Barrow should have been pushing for rather than a 9th amendment to give themselves more power over us.

Self-interest in investigation!

There are three sayings I am finally understanding the meaning of: 1) birds of a feather flock together; 2) politics makes strange bedfellows; and 3) every man has a price.

So apply these three sayings to the Immigration Ministry and its once very vocal-all-knowing head, Godwin Hulse, who before he became a Minister of Government was self-righteous and would have demanded accountability, etc. Now he is in government and refuses to open up his Ministry to an independent investigating team that is impartial and trained. How could Godwin investigate himself? The buck in his Ministry stops with him, so he cannot head any investigation. I know he is smart enough to know that this is a conflict of interest. But just in case he does not, I am publicly calling him out. He has no reason to reveal the criminality and impropriety of his subordinates, because to do so is an indictment of himself and his leadership, or lack thereof. Plus a man has the right not to self-incriminate, so hand over the investigation to someone else, Godwin. It goes to common sense that neither the CEO nor the Acting Chief Immigration Officer can be investigating themselves … Come on, you educated people … that is 101 Introduction to Common Sense!

Now, I always knew Godwin had ambitions for political office but had stayed away for fear that if he threw in his hat, past charges for an alleged weed problem at a farm he managed would be used against him. So not having to face an electorate eased this fear and put him in both a Senatorial and Ministerial office. The Godwin I thought I knew, fast-talking, with every other word being “I” and very opinionated, is with the very government experiencing this corruption – but previously he would have denounced it … hmmm, but now he is either willingly helping to smooth things over or forced to closed ranks … either way he suddenly is not giving the answers and not amenable to open scrutiny, not even by the Senate. He is one of the “boys” now, affiliated with characters whom he denounced in a past life … Indeed politics make strange bedfellows. His silence and self-righteous tone have been bought with one political appointment to power … every man has a price … now I know what that means.

But, my logic tells me that “birds of a feather flock together” and Godwin’s feathers seem to have found matching feathers otherwise Godwin, who has no constituency to worry about or be afraid of, would not have closed ranks, and opted to stay with this flock. If he was half the man he used to try and portray himself to be on those many TV shows and call-in programs, I would have expected him a long time ago to denounce and resign and save face and expose the corruption if he disagrees with it or/and is not part of it.

But hold it, is it coincidence or ironic that the biggest corruption of the year, decade and century should happen in the very Ministry headed by Godwin Hulse? Is it another set up? No, not the self-righteous man I knew who always talked about systems and processes and had an engineering solution for every problem. He knew and had a view on every passport scandal before this one, so why wasn’t he vigilant? He knew he was at the helm of a rather “controversial” Ministry prone to temptations, corruption and impropriety, and this trained engineer did not install the brakes on this ever moving machine of corruption! How did he allow the PM to give Elvin Penner signing rights over him at this Ministry to his own detriment?

God bless my beloved Belize and destroy the tyrants and despots!

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