DANGRIGA, Wed. July 8, 2015–Today, reporters asked Prime Minister Dean Barrow in Dangriga about a call made earlier this week by the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) to have him remove Minister of State Edmond “Clear the Land” Castro” from his Cabinet on allegations of corruption.
Barrow was unequivocal in saying that he would not even consider the Opposition’s demand that he remove Castro from his Cabinet.
“The man just won a huge convention victory. What happened in court is that he withdrew his defamation suit. How on earth would that be a basis for his removal from Cabinet? That’s nonsense, man; I’m not prepared to dignify that any further with any additional response,” Barrow said with finality.
The call for Castro’s removal was made after he withdrew from a defamation lawsuit that he had filed against whistleblower Alvarine Burgess and Great Belize Productions/Channel 5.
In late 2013, Burgess, in a broadcast on Channel 5, had alleged that she paid Castro hundreds of thousands of dollars for him to facilitate visa permits for Asians to visit Belize.
Castro responded by filing a defamation claim in the Supreme Court, claiming that the allegations had damaged his reputation and had caused him distress.
The presentations of evidence, and the testimonies of both Castro and Burgess, were heard in open court and the case had progressed to the point at which attorneys on both sides were to present oral submissions when the case went back to court last Friday, July 3.
Castro and his attorney, Rodwell Williams, S.C., met last Friday, in the chambers of Supreme Court of Justice Courtenay Abel. When they finally emerged from the judge’s chamber, it was to announce that Castro was withdrawing his claim against Burgess and Channel 5.
Essentially, Justice Abel had advised Castro’s attorney not to proceed with the lawsuit because it had little prospect of succeeding. Castro would have been risking an adverse judgment if he had continued with the case.
Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca told Amandala today, “We regret that a judgment was not formed in this matter, because that judgment would have been a public record. The transcripts of the oral hearings in the Supreme Court are there for everyone to see.”
Fonseca added, “That transcript establishes without any doubt Mr. Castro’s involvement in a visa hustle scandal. It exposes him as a liar and a corrupt individual. Under those circumstances, it is absolutely imperative for the Prime Minister to act. Mr. Castro should do the right thing and step down.”
Fonseca said that Castro could face legal sanctions under the Corruption in Public Life Act, but the body that would be responsible for that would be the Integrity Commission, and right now, there is no such commission in operation.
The Integrity Commission is comprised of four members that are appointed by the Government and two by the Opposition. Since 2008, however, there has been no Integrity Commission in place to investigate complaints of corruption and wrongdoings against government officials.
The Integrity Commission is tasked with investigating allegations of corruption and wrongdoings under the Corruption in Public Life Act, and where it finds evidence of violations, it is tasked with passing the relevant documents to the Director of Public Prosecutions for action.
The PUP will continue to press for Minister Castro’s removal, Fonseca said.