BELIZE CITY–The Committee of Experts of the Follow-up Mechanism for the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (MESICIC) of the Organization of American States (OAS) has released its Belize report on the implementation of the treaty, following the Twenty-Fourth Meeting held last week at the headquarters of the hemispheric institution in Washington, D.C.
The Committee notes that at the time of the on-site visit April 23-25, 2014, representatives of the country under review had explained that no member of the Integrity Commission was formally in place and there was no functioning Integrity Commission.
“The Committee believes that it is important for the country under review to consider taking the steps necessary to ensure that the members of the Integrity Commission are appointed so that the Commission can, inter-alia, perform the important functions assigned to it with regard to the system of financial declarations in Belize,” the MESICIC report said.
“At present, declarations are not being used as a basis for providing counseling on the prevention of conflicts of interest,” it added.
The MESICIC report points out that “…the absence of a functional Integrity Commission means that no aspect of the financial declaration system can operate, such as the review of declarations that are filed; making use of declarations to detect conflicts of interest; or the application of penalties with respect to those public servants required by law to file financial declarations and who fail to do so, among others.”
The Committee of Experts urges Belize to “Take the steps necessary to ensure the appointment of the members of the Integrity Commission, so that the Commission can begin to exercise its critical responsibilities as the oversight body for the financial declarations system in Belize.”
It did acknowledge a move by the Government of Belize earlier this year to reactivate the Integrity Commission, to be chaired by Marilyn Williams, formerly the head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) in Belize.
Williams told us that while there is currently no Commission in place, she would still fill the seat if the Government is able to fill the seats of the persons who have declined their appointments.
In February 2014, even before the on-site visit by MESICIC, the Senate had approved the appointments of Williams; Philip Zuniga, SC, ex-president of the Senate and a former executive chairman of Belize Telemedia Limited; Kevin Arthurs, attorney and board member of the Human Rights Commission of Belize; Armead C. Gabourel, who had previously served on the Integrity Commission; Stephen Duncan – managing director of Heritage Bank; Wilmot Simmons of Prosser Fertilizer & Agrotec Co. Ltd; and Brent Feinstein, director of Benny’s Home Depot (who would fill the seat of accountant on the Commission). However, Duncan and Feinstein declined their appointments.
One factor was new financial disclosure regulations that created a category of politically exposed persons (PEPs), which would include Commission members.
The Integrity Commission was established in 1994, but has been non-functional for most of its existence. Apart from the Integrity Commission, other oversight bodies are the Office of The Auditor General, The Ministry of the Public Service, The Office of the Services Commissions, and The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
According to the OAS Committee, “Belize deposited the instrument of ratification of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption on September 6, 2002,” and “Belize signed the Declaration on the Mechanism for Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption on June 9, 2003.”
Belize was represented in the review by Iran Tillett-Dominguez, Deputy Solicitor General, International Legal Affairs, Attorney General’s Ministry, who is also the expert of Belize to the Committee of Experts of the MESICIC.
Integrity Commission members appointed in February 2014