Politics — 29 November 2013 — by Kareem Clarke
“Investigation into passport scandal is ongoing:” Immigration Minister

Hon. Godwin Hulse had no real news to offer to the media

Although Immigration Minister, Hon. Godwin Hulse, was still reluctant to divulge any detailed information about the “ongoing” investigations into the recent passport scandal, he did provide some additional information regarding the situation at the embattled Immigration and Nationality Departments, including the hiring of an assistant CEO in the Immigration Ministry.

The “Penner Passport Scandal” that surfaced just before Belize’s 32nd anniversary of Independence in September, is still very much in the minds of many Belizeans. Former Minister of State and Cayo Northeast area representative, Hon. Elvin Penner – the man who was fired from Cabinet for his involvement in the granting of a Belizean passport to a man who was in a Taiwanese prison at the time – is still the area representative for his constituency.

Soon enough, the issue came up at today’s press conference. As readers would recall, he was implicated in the scandal surrounding the delivery in early September of a fraudulent passport to a South Korean national, Won Hong Kim, who was at the time sitting in a Taiwanese prison and who had never set foot in Belize.

Today, at the press conference, the Prime Minister was asked for an update on Penner and the current investigations that are supposedly taking place at the Immigration and Nationality Departments regarding the scandal. Barrow said, “I haven’t spoken to Penner in weeks. I spoke to him before I left, but since I came back, I have had no conversation with him. Certainly, we have invited him to resign, so we don’t treat him as a UDP area representative, so that’s exactly where it should be, where the committee is operating on behalf of the United Democratic Party, and Mr. Penner is now completely his own man.”

The investigations were ordered by the substantive Minister of Immigration and Nationality, Hon. Senator Godwin Hulse. When prodded for an update on the status of the investigations at the Immigration Department, the Minister said: “It [the investigation] is ongoing; the police are in there, as we said; the FIU are still there, the Auditor General is now there; the Ministry itself has undertaken a very comprehensive and detailed restructuring program which will be taking place very shortly, leading to some very significant changes.

“As you know, there are three pieces of legislation that went before the house. There was a Committee meeting on Monday; unfortunately, nobody attended, but I assume that means everybody agrees with the amendments that are being put forward. They go back to the House for their second and third reading, and then to the Senate. Hopefully, those will happen before the end of the year and we’ll be able to implement the restructuring plan particularly embodied in those. At the end of the day, hopefully very early next year, Immigration will be a department that will be running like a well-oiled machine, and all the action that we might have to take that is recommended by the police or anybody else, will be done through the executive bodies.”

Hulse then informed the gathering that they will now be employing an assistant CEO in his ministry, which encompasses the Ministry of Immigration and Nationality, Labour, Local Government and NEMO. The new Assistant Chief Executive Officer in Hulse’s ministry will be Edmund Zuniga. Zuniga’s role, according to Hulse, is to be an “extra arm and an extra element of supervision over the Immigration and Nationality Departments, in addition to the rollout of the restructuring that we are proposing.”

In the meantime, Penner – who has apparently rejected the call to step down as area representative – still continues to enjoy all the perks of a member of parliament, although he currently functions without the support of his constituency committee, which has refused to work with the outcast area representative.

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