Opposition Senator Lisa Shoman this afternoon issued a call on the Senate to launch an independent investigation into the recently disclosed passport scandal for which former Minister of State in the Immigration Ministry Elvin Penner, the United Democratic Party area representative for Cayo Northeast, was forced to resign two weeks ago, after a revelation that Kim Won-Hong – a South Korean who had been jailed in Taiwan, had been fraudulently given Belizean nationality and a Belize passport.
“I think all of us as citizens need to know what happened, how it happened, who caused it to happen, who is responsible and most importantly of all, we need the assurance that it will never occur again,” Senator Shoman said.
She invited the ruling United Democratic Party administration to table a motion at the next sitting of the Senate “to convoke the Senate to exercise its powers” and if not, the Opposition is prepared to bring that motion at the next Senate meeting.
“We passed a raft of legislation today, Mr. President, in order to satisfy the entire world, that we do not condone nor do we support illegal activity in Belize – nothing less than the integrity of our nationality certificate and our passport is at stake. I join the call that is coming from the media, that is coming from citizens, that is coming from civil society, that is coming from the Opposition for there to be a full and proper accounting of what occurred, not only in relation to this matter, but what are the weaknesses in the system and what assurances we can have that such an incident will never occur again in order for us to have to put the Prime Minister of this country in a position where the resignation of the Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration had to occur – that is utterly, utterly shameful,” Shoman said.
The Leader of Government Business in the Senate – the person who would table such a motion were the ruling party to put such a motion forward – is also the substantive Minister of Immigration: Hon. Godwin Hulse.
“I, as Minister of Immigration and the Cabinet of Belize, and the Honorable Prime Minister [am] committed to ensure the integrity of the Belizean nationality and citizenship, as I have publicly said over and over; while irregularities may rob the Customs of revenue, while irregularities in natural resources may rob the nation of revenue… immigration has the potential to change the face of the nation and we have zero tolerance,” Hulse said.
“I’m glad that the Prime Minister called for it promptly, but what is clear is that we as a Senate have a constitutional responsibility to cause for such an inquiry to take place and to exercise our powers and function under section 61(a) of the Constitution to make sure that such an inquiry takes place,” Shoman said, inviting the social partners – the private sector, the churches and the unions – to support the independent inquiry.
In responding to Shoman today, Hulse recalled that he was one of the first to chair a Senate investigation into irregularities – and to his dismay, nothing has come of the monumental investment of time, energy and money.
“Those investigations [into the mortgage securitization debacle at the Belize Social Security Board] took 22 ½ months to be completed, and it took an enormous amount of my personal time, and effort – and money, to say the least, personal expenses to see that through. Notwithstanding that and a report that was submitted, that report languished at the DPP until I think it has become statute-barred. And no action whatsoever has been taken on it,” Hulse said.
He added that, “Notwithstanding that, I personally will not stand in the way of any call for any investigation into whatever occurred. I have heard calls that the police should investigate…”
Hulse said that his ministry undertook an aggressive review of administrative practices to see where things had gone awry, and as a result, recommendations were made to the Public Service Commission.
He also mentioned that after the incident in which a “Hezbollah activist,” Lebanese-American Rafic Mohammad Labboun Allaboun, obtained a Belizean passport in the name of a deceased baby, William Dyck, they instituted aggressive checks and procedures to ensure this would not happen—even to the extent that the public lamented that it had begun to prove more difficult to get a Belizean passport.
Hulse said that while he can’t guarantee that that system would never again be penetrated, “I can assure you that this system that we have enhanced will make it so tight that it will be next to impossible.”