Features — 04 October 2013 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

It is possible that a person’s mind and/or a nation’s psyche could be so saturated with the negatives and scandals that they just become desensitized, sinister, or fatigued that they just cannot “deal with it” anymore. But for a person or nation to reach that point it has to be that internally, their reasoning mechanism just cannot or does not want to process one more thing, because the psyche is now detecting it as the norm, not as a mind-boggling, shocking, jerk-you-out- of- your-senses event.

For some reason it seems that this is the very thing that has happened in Belize, especially because we have still not wheeled out of the reality of all that the UDP administration has unearthed and publicized and pontificated about the wheelings and dealings of the past administration managed by representatives of the PUP. When news of the secret deals were made public, it was madness… many were shocked while some got confirmation of what they suspected. That was a moment!

But what the Belizean psyche will not forget is that, it was the new administration, a different government, with new standards that stepped forward and opened our eyes to these things. They became heroes and we all applauded their crusade to rid Belize of tyrants and tyrannical acts.

Sadly, to date, there has been not one conviction of the men and women who perpetrated this fraud on the Belizean people. Almost all are still around, living amongst us, and breathing the same air we breathe, using water from the same potable system we use and driving on the same streets we drive and most of us walk on. It’s a case of “lie as usual”. All the name-calling and spewing of attacks about the corrupt past and the corruption cartel, and injustice to our people, is just lots of hot air, for airtime, small minds, short memories and street corner gossip… Talk, talk, talk along with finger-pointing, but nothing to bring to an end the “corruption”; as true as the revelations may be, the corresponding action to annihilate is non-existent. It is like the Belizean people are hyped up, excited, led along a parade following the music, in circles, with no end results that will bring to an end the very acts and omissions deemed corrupt, but not proven in a court of law, so no verdict is possible!

No action to end the corruption!

But maybe more important, it is a case of lots of talk and no action. I am still waiting for the Amendment to the Finance and Audit Act, Chapter 15 of the Laws of Belize, which will not only name what should not be done, but make it criminal – all the irregular practices politicians get away with, though they should amount to a crime. But also I want to see stiff penalties levied upon corrupt officials upon conviction. It should even be a crime for them not to be able to produce the documentation for decisions taken… because too often there is no prosecution because there is no evidence to trace what happened; there are only end results, but if said end-result is under your watch and you cannot explain and show how it came about, you should be criminally responsible.

Why would any government not want to crack down on the crimes by leaders against the public? Is it not because they do not want to be responsible to set up the guillotine that will be used when their head is on the chopping block? You see, the revelation of all the wrongs of a previous administration is not unearthed and revealed because of the action GOB will take to end it; no, it is revealed not to bring it to an end, but to create the hype, throw us the red herring and keep the status quo, so when the shoe is on the other foot, the same outcry will occur and no action!

Think about it, Belizeans, how come every government that gets into power can make public the bad and corrupt record of their predecessors, but not yet after 32 years of independence do we have the proper laws in place to bring the corruption under control and have some government ministers and officials in handcuffs and behind bars? My answer is because it is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

The recent immigration scandal and crime by Minister Penner is a case in point!

Immigration hustle

The truth is that from before former Minister of State Penner won office he had already been introduced by his own party to a system of registering immigrants, for votes. Everyone of significance in his party was doing it and so he followed suit; he was just stupid enough to openly and publicly say what he was doing then, because I guess he figured, if it is so rampant around election time, and the government officers and officers are facilitating it, then it must be that it is acceptable and the norm.

I do not know who can forget that revealing interview given by Elvin Penner on January 18, 2012, where he made it seem like the norm and acceptable thing to push your political clout around to fast-track the registration of non-Belizeans in return for votes. Here is an excerpt of what he said when the media questioned him about the over 100 “constituents” whom he said he was assisting to get their Belizean nationality so they could vote for him in gratitude for his effort and financial contribution to get their documents:

“I’m trying to work with them. 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.”

Interestingly, he claims to vet them himself and determines who qualifies: “We have taken out the police records for each [and] every person who qualify. I have about 100+ applications home that I personally felt didn’t qualify. I didn’t even bring them. I’m going to deal with them later once they can assure me that they qualify, then I will bring them in after elections.”

Police records that would normally take weeks to obtain were being issued in one day and while he had over 100 he thinks don’t qualify he will still venture to bring them to register after the elections. The police, rather than investigating his actions, which I deemed illegal under the Representation of People’s Act and could have been investigated for election bribery, instead helped to facilitate the police records, and thus were compromised and could not do an honest investigation.

Bigger Immigration racket

But that interview forever stuck in my mind, like the one of Patrick Faber saying he fired Mrs. Good because his constituents now should get the jobs and he must help his people, even if by victimizing another Belizean. But the interview stuck in my mind, because like Faber, it revealed a phenomenon wherein these politicians were condoning a wrong, but seemed to honestly believe they were right. The culture of corruption and victimization is so accepted that they both gave media interviews as if what they were doing was just the normal order of the day and the Belizean public did not even lift an eyebrow… It’s like the masses just see it as ‘same old, same old’, so what is the big deal. Our sense of justice has been dulled!

I do not know what the PM expected after he heard the above interview, but where we are with Penner and his immigration scandal is just where I saw it heading. When he did what he did at the Immigration Department in 2012 and his own party leader, our Prime Minister, did not condemn it but rather rewarded him by giving him a portfolio and responsibility for immigration, it was a clear indication that he could graduate to another level. After all, the PM could not have been concerned after having heard how he was working hard to register votes. If the PM had any iota of concern, he would have never put the rat to mind the cheese.

Let’s not forget what Penner also told reporters in 2012:

Hon. Elvin Penner

”Everything I have to pay for, I’m digging myself into a hole, but I’m sure there will be some good Samaritan who will help me out.”

Jules Vasquez

”If you’re paying half for 100, that’s $15,000.”

Hon. Elvin Penner

”And that’s about what we had already spent in the paperwork because even those who didn’t qualify, we already did their medical reports because we weren’t sure if they qualify.”

The man told the nation he dug himself in a financial hole… so did anyone wonder how he would get out of that hole after he won and became the Minister of State with responsibility for Immigration? For me there is no shock effect… Rather this is the natural course this story would have taken.

Here is an excerpt of what I wrote in January 2012 in this same column: “…every politician should know that it is considered bribery to entice voters to vote for them in return for any money or like valuable consideration. In this case it cannot be that politicians are paying for the citizenship of immigrants/constituents in return for votes. Honestly the DPP needs to look into this open criminal practice or the government needs to decriminalize election bribery addressed at Section 32 of the Representation of People Act.”

Mose will expose

So popular talk-show host Mose Hyde seems to be tired of sitting back, expecting the police to use their intelligence gathering via media reports, and jump into investigation mode regarding how Elvin Penner could try and help an Asian fugitive locked up in some jail, get his passport as though he visited or lived in Belize. And as Mose complained that he was tired of waiting to see the police act, he took it upon himself as a voter, Belizean, and interested party to try and lodge his complaint with the police to get them on the ball on this investigation. But beyond the police the DPP has the power to direct the police to investigate this matter. But Mose is on the right track, because the investigation needs to look at the JP who verified the documents, the man who posed as Mr. Kim, the officers at Immigration who assisted. Importantly, the police needs to ascertain where the file that has gone missing could possibly be and who hid it and why?

One would think that the PM would have heads rolling, or that the Minister of National Security, the Commissioner of Police and the Commandant of the BDF would be having meetings to address this threat to national security… because it is! How could a criminal sitting in a prison in Asia, be getting Belizean nationality and passport? Outrageous! Shame!

So the same PM and his politicians, his cabinet and his media mouthpiece were not quick to denounce the act and admit this is the epitome of corruption. The same scandal and corruption they so vilified the PUP for was unraveling before their eyes and finally the Belizean people would not have to wait until another election and party in power so they pull out the old dirt… No, this one is happening in real time with a government that came into power on a promise of no corruption etc., so the charges must be pressed. Ironically, it should not have been Mose to go lodge the complaint. Minister Godwin Hulse, as Minister looking out for the interests of the nation, should have lodged the complaint that would launch the investigation… but he thinks he is an administrator only, so kudos to Mose for taking the lead in a true ‘zinc-fence’ fashion!

Penner has only been demoted, because he is stripped of a title, not his constituency. But criminal conviction with a sentence of 12 months or more would mean he has to give up his office and a by-election would have to be held. But the UDP only won by ONE seat, so I opine that the complacency in relation to the criminal investigation is a move not to lose a much needed seat to stay in power. You see, politicians think about their power and self-interest first… not national interest!

It’s one thing to talk about corruption and point fingers at your opponent; it’s another to do something meaningful about it! It’s the same scenario at SIF (Social Investment Fund) where four are fired, but where is the police investigation? Monies were taken as bribes; monies were spent on a project exceeding the work on the ground… SIF officials were part of this and need to be investigated!

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