Features — 07 March 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

There is an eerie feeling in the air over this nation and only those with a sense of discernment can detect it… others are oblivious of the forces at work. It makes me think of the old Biblical days when literally offerings were burnt to God and so the smoke of the burnt offering permeated the atmosphere. But those offerings greatly depended on the heart of the “offeror.” So we are not “burning” offerings, but our individual conduct and acts and especially those of our leaders set the tone of what is out there, the “smoke-screen” in the public domain. It’s like madness going on and people being allowed to get away with madness!

The tone on many things are set by our leaders, be it political leaders, church leaders, youth leaders, women leaders, social leaders, sports leaders, just leaders on a whole.

Union’s right to rally

An interesting power play took place the past week and I wrote about it in last week’s edition of this column and this week I sat back and saw the power play but did not anticipate that such a gigantic player as the Catholic Church would step in. From this writer’s corner I was looking at the duplicitous nature of the Ministry of Education under the leadership of Patrick Faber and several things came to mind.

First, I cannot remove the image of Patrick as a teacher defying authorities in Belmopan, when he went to protest at the campus of the University of Belize (UB.) He felt himself a hero and he ensured that he exercised his right to protest and stood up against the then PUP administration. But it seems what is good for the proverbial goose is not good for the gander, because he has launched an all-out public attack against the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) for just participating in a rally. These teachers are not even carrying on with the disruption and disorder that he did….

The tone he has set is one of disrespect to the teachers, the unions, their leaders and he has added a factor of duress and intimidation. I say this because in order to dissuade teachers form coming out to stand up against the corruption and ills of this nation, the Ministry has tried to hit them where it hurts most – their salaries. Teachers wishing to exercise their constitutional right to associate with a union and express themselves through that union are having to think twice, because a day’s pay from an already small pay is tough.

But this week the Ministry upped the ante when it issued a memo stating that if teachers go out to rally in Belmopan this Friday, their managements are asked not only to deduct salary for Friday, but for Saturday and Sunday as well. Now this decision is a clear reflection of the heart of the Minister himself, because such a huge directive could never be done by his minions alone. This is so huge that even a blind man can see this is outright intimidation, duress and a desperate attempt to crush the momentum the union has picked up.

Two-faced Ministry of Education

Then there is the other side of the coin where in the same breath the same Ministry of Education is calling on teachers to attend the 20K strong rally planned it seems by the Women’s Commission and serving as a platform for the “Special” Envoy, who just happens to be the PM’s wife. So of course Minister Faber needs to do all he can to get in the PM’s grace, especially seeing that of late, Gaspar Vega has been trumping him. In the past when PM went away, Patrick was Acting Prime Minister; now the only acting he does is acting out. Patrick has not held back his view of the BNTU, its President and followers and in no uncertain terms has condemned the teachers’ rally name “Teechaz gat yu bak.” He told the media: “I just received a response to the Ministry’s memo from the Union which they accuse me of giving permission to the schools to close. And while that is the case to an extent …”

This is what the memo from his Ministry said: “The Ministry hereby advises that in the event that schools intend to participate [in the 20K women’s Rally] – and where such participation would affect the normal operations of the school – classes may be suspended on the afore cited date to allow participants to attend the event as scheduled. The Ministry takes this opportunity to thank you for supporting this initiative.”

I would say the request was carefully “couched.” The implication is definitely one seeking support for that rally. But the rally that follows the very next day Friday, March 7, 2014 in Belmopan is absolutely not supported and the Minister calls it industrial action for which salaries must be docked! The long and short of it is that – if you attend Thursday’s Envoy-sponsored rally, your salary will NOT be docked because Faber and his leader would be most pleased, but if that same teacher attends his/her BNTU-sponsored rally, then the salary will be docked.

Let us not forget that the teachers’ rally was not only about the salary increase, it was about corruption, lack of accountability and especially lack of investigation into Penner-gate.

Mandamus to catch Penner

So Belizeans can appreciate the tone being set by our government when, at all cost, it directs that women, especially teachers, drop everything they are doing to go give a big show of support to the Prime Minister’s wife and her rally, but that same government does not likewise call on police to drop everything and go all out to investigate Elvin Penner, Minister of State with signing powers over immigration matters.

Maybe it is hoped that the women’s rally will serve as such a great distraction that no one will remember that just Monday of this same week, the PUP had to go to court to seek an order of mandamus mandating the police to please do their job and investigate Penner’s involvement in issuing a passport to jailed South Korean “Citizen Kim.” Where the focus is on things this week is critical since by Monday, when the ruling came out, Penner had already escaped one of the charges because the six-month limitation expired that same day and the police did not want to effect the arrest on what they already had. Why did the PUP take so long to act?

Anyway, don’t forget, Penner attested that he knew Citizen Kim from before he went into politics, per one version of his admission, and for three years per another version of his story. But not only that he knew Citizen Kim, in an e-mail to Jules Vasquez the Minister of State proudly admitted accompanying the purported Citizen Kim to the Immigration Department to ensure that he is processed in one day and treated right! Yes…. What the hell! These were his words: “[I] personally went with him to the passport office to see to it that he would get proper attention and would get his passport the same day.”

But even with this on October 2, 2013 the PM lashed out at KREM Radio News Editor, Marisol Amaya, for stating that there was evidence to criminally charge Penner.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow: “How do you know that, ma’am?”

Marisol Amaya, KREM Radio: “A Minister appearing at an office telling an employee that they need to process this passport. Of course they would have done it.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow: “Ms. Marisol, where is the evidence of that? That Penner went there himself and told them to process it.”

If the PM missed that, by Penner’s own admission via an e-mail he gave the answer to the PM’s question when he said he went “to see to it that he [Kim] … would get his passport the same day.”

Who stopped the investigation?

There should have been no need for the Opposition to go to court to demand that the Police do an investigation, but that is how it eventually happened. Now being that it is the PUP who went, there are those who easily get distracted from the issue at hand and start clamoring about the days when Max Samuels could not account for missing passports…. Which I say was also wrong, but no one took up the cause to get answers. In today’s era, however, we have a more enlightened and mature society, so I know today Max could not get away with this….. but we should check if there is any statute of limitation on those and see if there is evidence to connect him.

Evidence is critical, and that is not missing in this case, simply because by Godwin’s Hulse interview they knew Penner was leaning on public officers to act improperly, but he was not removed, so Minister Hulse had to be on stand-by to get calls from immigration officers who needed to get the bigger boss to rein in Penner.

Also, the best evidence comes from Penner’s very own e-mail which places him there with the purported Kim, which has his signature on the nationality certificate which he did not deny back-dating, and more importantly, Penner said he knew this man for some years, but that could not be because Kim was happily embezzling money in South Korea and at the time of getting this passport in Belize, he was really in a prison cell in Taiwan….

We may never know who stopped the investigation…. But we know it was stopped based on the DPP’s memo. We also know that there was at least one powerful voice that did not even believe there was need for an investigation. On October 2, 2013 this is an aired interview with the PM:

Reporter: “What is stopping the police from investigating Mr. Penner?”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow: “But I never said that it was a criminal matter. I look at the circumstances, as closely and as fairly and as critically as I could and I am satisfied that there is no basis on which any criminal charges could successfully be laid. There is no evidence at all, that could sustain a criminal prosecution against Penner. That is my position and I am telling you that, that position doesn’t come about because I am in any way trying to protect Penner…”

Twenty-one days later this is an interview with the Minister responsible for the Police Department:

Jules Vasquez: “Is there a police investigation into the affairs of the Immigration Department? And, what is the sphere, the thrust of that investigation?”

Hon. John Saldivar – Minister of National Security: “While I cannot give you the details of where the investigation is at this time, I can confirm that the Police Department is investigating various aspects of the immigration scandal.”

Jules Vasquez: “Will that include any investigation into the actions of your colleague in the House, Mr. Penner?”

Hon. John Saldivar: “At this point, I cannot tell you how far or how deep, but the police are currently investigating.”

Well, it seems from all accounts of what came out of court, the reason the Minister could not speak to the investigation is simply because there is none. For example, Penner sent Jules Vasquez his confession on September 27, 2013, so Jules needs to be asked by police to give a witness statement and hand over the email and the text from Penner re-confirming he did send such e-mail.

Sunday, March 9, 2014 the limitation on the second charge expires….. would Penner have been arrested by then?

God bless our Belize!

Shocking in the courtroom drama was the revelation of a memo from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution questioning senior police officers about who directed them to stop the investigation. Wow – that was a bombshell! So the investigation was started, but stopped dead in its tracks….. who gave that directive? Did Commissioner of Police Whylie do that on his own? Or was he ordered and thus complied?

Do my readers wonder how come the PM seems to be reading from a script that says Penner is done with the UDP, yet he pushes no investigation, forms no commission, does not support a Senate inquiry and still would not vilify Penner, who is the cause for the pressure on his government? This is what he says: “We are not going to go out there and slaughter Penner, we are not going to do it, but to ask us to actually join some sort of a street campaign against a former colleague, we believe, is asking us to go too far.”

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