Allegations are that pubic officers have been threatened not to sign
The story of disgraced Minister of State Hon. Elvin Penner, with responsibility for passports, is far from over; in fact, some say that it may have just begun.
Last Wednesday, October 2, Opposition PUP Leader Hon. Francis Fonseca wrote Hon. Penner, area representative for Cayo North East, to give him an ultimatum: resign from the House, or be recalled under an electoral law that Penner’s party, the UDP, had passed in 2010.
Fonseca informed Penner via that correspondence that he had until 5:00 p.m. today, Monday, to do what is in the “best interest of the people of Cayo North East” and “resign or be recalled.”
According to Fonseca, Penner “has lost the trust and confidence of those he represents,” and therefore, his resignation would be his final opportunity to “put the interest of the people ahead of the United Democratic Party.”
Over the last three weeks, Penner has been at the center of great public scrutiny, and no doubt has suffered considerably after having lost his Cabinet portfolio and salary. Penner, however, is now in danger of losing his political division, at a great cost to his party’s very thin majority in the House.
The Opposition PUP has begun to mobilize in Penner’s Cayo North East constituency with teams of volunteers who are working to institute the recall mechanism. If Penner is recalled, then a bye-election would be called in the division, in which he would not be able to offer himself as a candidate.
But first, if this is to happen, which is yet to be seen, the PUP would have to garner at least 3,606 of the 5,548 registered voters in Cayo North East to force the actual recall referendum, in which a new area representative would be chosen.
On Saturday, the People’s United Party embarked on an effort to collect signatures to force Penner’s recall. The party sent teams to each of the seven villages in the constituency, and bases were set up at strategic points for constituents to sign.
The teams also went door-to-door to gather people’s names and signatures in what is considered as the first step in an unprecedented procedure to have the ex-Minister of State recalled as area representative due to his alleged involvement in the latest embarrassing passport scandal. The scandal in question involves the fraudulent issuance of Belizean nationality and a passport to Won Hong Kim, a South Korean national who was incarcerated in a jail in Taiwan, but has since been extradited on charges that he is the alleged mastermind of a multi-million dollar scam in South Korea.
The Opposition would need to accumulate at least 1,736 voters, which would be equal to 30 percent of the Cayo Northeast electorate, in order to trigger a recall. PUP Deputy Party Leader Hon. Julius Espat told KREM News, however, that the PUP is committed to seeing the process through, and said that it is an opportunity for Belizeans to see if the law was truly put in place to serve the people.
Espat went on to accuse the UDP of “buying off” elections in those localities, and stated that the PUP would therefore be monitoring their every move.
Meanwhile, the United Democratic Party (UDP) convened for a National Party Council meeting at their headquarters in Belize City, also on Saturday. The meeting was reportedly held to discuss with Penner the passport scandal and its implications, and also to decide on a way to proceed in regards to the proposed Cayo North East constituency recall, which party leader Hon. Dean Barrow has already indicated that they (the UDP) will counteract.
UDP Chairman, Alberto August, told KREM News afterwards that the meetings were held to discuss “confidential” party matters, and that the UDP, “as a highly organized, motivated, mass political party, in the current situation, will most certainly not roll over and play dead.”
By Saturday evening, the PUP had gotten 700 signatures, and by Sunday’s end, they had reportedly passed 1,000 signatures after a rally in the division that was held in San Ignacio at 2 p.m. that day. According to the PUP, the rally was held to “sensitize” people so that they could become aware of what is going on and what Mr. Penner has done.
This morning, though, the PUP 2012 general election candidate, Orlando Habet, who was reportedly a major player in the effort to collect signatures over the weekend, called KREM’s WUB Morning Show to inform listeners that some public officers in the constituency had allegedly received text messages of a threatening nature with regards to signing the petition, and that therefore, they were reluctant to sign due to fear of losing their jobs.
Habet, who lost to Penner by 17 votes in the last general elections, said that they are aiming for a total of 1,800 signatures, and that they will also make an effort to ensure that the signatures that are collected cannot be rejected by the Elections and Boundaries Department, as was the case with Oceana’s petition to have a referendum on offshore oil drilling in February of 2012.