BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. Jan. 11, 2017–Thirteen current and former UDP Cabinet Ministers had been named in the Auditor General’s Special Report into the Passport, Visa and Nationality Departments for the period 2011-2013.
Today, Wednesday, former Immigration Director, Maria Marin, confirmed to the Senate Select Committee that these Ministers had regularly recommended persons for immigration documents, even in many instances where the applications were incomplete.
She explained that when she became “commander-in-chief” of the Immigration Department, there was a culture of irregularities that she tried to change.
Almost 90 per cent of incomplete applications were returned to applicants and a list of Ministers constantly recommending persons had been compiled by her.
When Business Senator Markhelm Jude Lizarraga asked what was done with that list, she told him that it was submitted to Minister Godwin Hulse and then Immigration CEO Candelaria Saldivar.
Senator Lizarraga asked, “What was the result of that list?”
“Shortly thereafter we saw the number of recommendations decreasing,” she explained.
“Your plan was to change the culture; address what you perceived to be a culture when you came on board…,” said the chairman of the Senate Select Committee, Senator Aldo Salazar.
“When I came on board as Deputy Director I was aware of cases where people would come in the department with incomplete application forms…,” responded Marin.
She continued to state that she witnessed requests coming in for approval of immigration documents without supporting documents, or without the applicant meeting the requirements.
She also revealed that she witnessed officers being approached by Ministers.
Additionally, she revealed that she embarked on several investigations into purported wrongdoing by public officers in the department. However, those investigations were fruitless because when she submitted reports to the Ministry of Immigration, hoping that it would go to the Public Commission for discipline, the wait time was too long, and there were technical points which caused the investigation to fall apart.
Furthermore, she claimed that officers were being promoted without training, and there was no record-keeping done.
She told the committee that she discussed the existing culture with Minister Hulse and he had supported her efforts to change it.
When Senator Elena Smith probed further, Marin conceded that although she had introduced new policies to rid the department of the existing culture, the culture had been ingrained.
Senator Lizarraga told Marin, “I am having great difficulty understanding how a department with so much effort being done, knowing there was this culture or scheme taking place since 2010…”
Marin interjected, “What do you mean by scheme?”
Senator Lizarraga responded, “Perhaps I should ask what you mean by scheme because it was mentioned in your report on Won Hong Kim in your memo dated December 20, 2013, as acting Director.”
He continued, “There was a scheme in place which you knew about since 2010, which led to you returning 90 percent of files. If your role was to improve, what went wrong?”
Marin replied, “We needed support from policy makers.”
Senator Lizarraga insisted, “You needed the support of the politicians?”
“Yes,” Marin replied.
“I am glad you say that, because public officers felt insecure in their jobs and complied with Ministerial requests,” said Senator Lizarraga.
Lizarraga explained that Marin had reported the actions of the two officers who did not follow procedures.
“Officers were requested to provide explanation, but their response was not satisfactory,” Marin rebutted.
She told the committee that those two officers were never punished, even though she had written to the appropriate entities for action.
Senator Salazar interjected, “Senator Lizarraga put it to you that you took record of Ministerial recommendations…”
“My reason for keeping record was not because officers felt intimidated, but to advise Minister [Godwin Hulse] that the requests were increasing,” she replied.
Senator Lizarraga asked Marin to comment on the revelation that aside from the nationality documents issued to Won Hong Kim, there were 14 other immigration documents issued by Ms. Ady Pacheco.
According to Marin, Pacheco was the person who accepted the files, but could not locate them. A written explanation was requested of her.
Lizarraga asked, “Would you agree that as a part of this culture and scheme that the Attorney General has also made reference to, that Immigration and Nationality files were processed in a great part because of Ministerial influence?”
“Yes,” replied Marin.
While there may have been allusions to gross Ministerial interference at today’s Senate hearing, it is unsure when and who will be the first Minister to be called upon by the Committee.
The next hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday.