Politics — 01 October 2013 — by Kareem Clarke
Political corruption sparks demonstration at House

Dangriga mayor and market vendors, along with COLA and SIF financiers protest against corruption

The controversy that has erupted as a result of the unfinished Dangriga Town Market project is still smoldering. Today, a small group of irate protestors braved the searing heat in the Capital City to convene for a demonstration at the steps of the National Assembly.

This was done in an effort to register their disapproval with the Government’s handling of recent issues, including the Dangriga Town Market project that is now in limbo, and a repulsive passport scandal in which a member of parliament was implicated and removed from his post.

While the heated debates went on as usual inside the House of Representatives, discontented protestors on the outskirts voiced their concerns loudly, but peacefully, on three crucial points of interest – the recent passport scandal, the SIF (Dangriga Market) bribery scandal, and the pause in the construction of the renovation of the Dangriga Market.

Although there were roughly a little over a hundred participants in the protest, their message was made clear with the help of placards, which also spoke of the collective issues that presently affect the residents, especially those who have been inconvenienced by the market project.

At the heart of the protest were the Dangriga market vendors, who are despondent at the abrupt pause in the construction of their new market after an extortion scandal hit the Social Investment Fund (SIF), the body that was responsible for the market’s renovation. As a result, four employees of SIF were relieved of their duties and the Executive Director was allowed to resign.

Dangriga’s Mayor, Gilbert Swazo, said that the firings are no consolation to the people of Dangriga, who are in dire need of their market. Swazo said that the firing of four low-level staff from SIF and the resignation of the executive director do not ease the suffering of the people of Dangriga in any way, shape or form.

Rather, he asserted, it was just a “band-aid solution” for the corruption that is taking place at SIF. Swazo said that they (Dangriga residents) have been silent for too long, and now they are demonstrating because they are frustrated and have become tired of all the wrongdoings in relation to the Dangriga market project, which he maintains should have been completed by July 31 of this year.

Mayor Swazo, with the backing of his protestors, stated that they need their market now and called for the resignation of Hon. Santiago Castillo, the minister responsible for SIF.

Hon. Castillo had indicated that SIF would not be able to reimburse the market’s replacement contractors, Lyndon Bailey and Emy Ramirez, because the contract for the market was originally between Kennard Smart, of K & G Construction, and SIF.

This was after Bailey and Ramirez reportedly invested nearly a half a million dollars to assist Smart to complete the market. However, they (Bailey and Ramirez) claim that SIF has refused to fulfill its obligations to compensate them after things went haywire with the market.

Today, they were present at the protest, and Bailey argued that they invested their monies in the project itself, and not in K & G Construction, who had lost the contract after being unable to complete the market in a timely manner due to allegations of extortion by SIF staffers.

The financiers are adamant that they want their money back because they had nothing to do with the accusations of corruption that were taking place at SIF. Lyndon Bailey said that they did not put their money in Smart’s hands, but rather, invested it in the project, and the only way in which Smart would have been able to get their money is if he had been working with people from SIF.

Bailey mentioned that he was of the opinion that SIF was a well-organized and reputable firm that works for the Government, and that he was recognized as a sub-contractor in the project. Bailey pleaded that he needs his money back because the project was run by SIF, even if his contract might not have been directly with them.

Bailey called on Prime Minister Dean Barrow to consider his plight, as well as the plight of the other people that are involved, because, according to Bailey, “We want our money because it was a big corruption at SIF that caused us to be in this problem we are in right now. And I need my money.”

While Mr. Bailey was passionate about getting his money back and the market vendors were clamoring for their much-delayed market, the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), led by Geovanni Bracket, were there to offer their support, as well as to highlight the other incidences involving corruption in government, specifically the current passport fiasco in which the former Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration, Hon. Elvin Penner, has been named.

Brackett told the media, “We needed to come and support the people of Dangriga. We don’t care about the political issue. We are not here to support a PUP mayor. We are here to support the people of Dangriga who need their market, like from yesterday, like last year.

“The second thing why we are here is because there is a mirage of allegations of corruption within the government. It doesn’t just start with the immigration scandal, it isn’t just the issue with Castro, and [actually] it goes way back to the Noh Mul and the KHMH issue. We brought in 135 people to come here to lodge our complaint on the record, because the time for press release and press conferences is gone. The time for people movement is now.”

Brackett lead the charge as the crowd shouted “Charge Penner now!”

Brackett said, “We want transparency and accountability, not the appearance of it.”

The protestors demonstrated and chanted to the rhythm of Garifuna drums until a bit before midday, after which they calmly disbanded.

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