Headline — 28 January 2017 — by Micah Goodin
Ruth Meighan’s electronic signature in Immigration system

BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. Jan. 25, 2017–Former Immigration Director, Ruth Meighan, made her second appearance today in front of the Senate Select Committee as they investigated the sensational findings of the Auditor General’s Special Report into the Passport, Visa and Nationality Departments for the period 2010-2013.

This time, however, an officer assigned to the Special Branch Unit of the Police Department was present in the gallery as Meighan testified under oath.

It was revealed by the Auditor General that thousands of immigration documents were issued with massive irregularities. Today, Meighan stirred uneasily as she alleged to the Senate Select Committee that almost every single passport since she served as Director from 2010 to 2013 were issued without her knowledge, without her involvement, but simply with an electronic copy of her signature affixed on the passport machine which could have been tampered with by anyone.

Here is the dialogue that took place just before that shocking revelation was made:

Senator Eamon Courtenay: “Could a passport be lawfully issued without your approval as Director at Immigration?”

Meighan: “No.”

Senator Aldo Salazar: “Last week you said that passports could be issued without your approval.”

Meighan: “As the Director of Immigration, my approval was the signature on the system that is it, that is my approval. I don’t have any kind of involvement with application of

passports from the time of application to the time of issue. The Director of Immigration’s signature is on the passport system and that is the approval signature.”

Salazar: “Last week you said that the only passports that required your intervention were emergency passports or those that were going to be issued within a day, and you said that was primarily for medical [reasons], but now, the testimony is a bit different, meaning that you are now saying that you had to intervene — by intervene, I mean you had to do something to approve…every single passport in Belize required your intervention, required you to do something personally?”

Meighan: “At the time I became director, I was asked to put my signature on the passport system, which is the approval signature for passports, but in terms of my intervention in the process from application up to that point, after signing on that system, I have absolutely no intervention in that process, from application up to the time of approval. My signature is on a passport system that approves the passport.”

Salazar: “What does that mean?”

Meighan: “It means that the system does everything.”

Courtenay: “You are telling this committee that while you were Director of Immigration, it was possible for your signature to be put on a passport without your knowledge?”

Meighan: “That is the system that we had in place. That is the system that I met there, and that is the system that I left there.”

Senator Carla Barnett: “In the process, who presses the button so your signature appears on the passport?”

Meighan: “The Officer in Charge of the Passport Section; The senior Immigration Officer.”

Courtenay: “As far as you’re concerned, there was no step of the process where the Director of Immigration was required to be involved with respect to the issuance of passports?”

Meighan: “No.”

Courtenay: “And as a matter of fact, were you involved?”

Meighan: “No”

Courtenay: “So the earlier answer that you gave that passports could not be lawfully issued without your approval is inaccurate?”

Meighan: “Well, I guess you would say yes.”

Courtenay: “Ms. Meighan, I need you to take this matter seriously, okay?”

Meighan: “I am taking it seriously.”

Courtenay: “Could passports be lawfully issued in Belize without the approval of the Director of Immigration?”

Meighan: “I am not certain, because my understanding from getting there and up to leaving is that with my signature on the system as the director, that that is the director’s approval. So the processing of the passport can be done without my knowledge, but with my signature on the passport; I believe it was a genuine approved passport.”

Courtenay: “You’re telling us that as a matter of routine, your signature would be affixed, the signature of the Director of Immigration would be affixed by a senior Immigration Officer once he or she is satisfied that the applicant met the requirements?”

Meighan: “Yes.”

Courtenay: “And in that process, the Director was not consulted?”

Meighan: “Yes.”

Courtenay: “With respect to passports, when you were Director of Immigration, who was in charge of the passport section?”

Meighan: “When I was there, it was Ms. Sharon Neal.”

Courtenay: “In respect of passports, would it be Ms. Sharon Neal who would be affixing your signature to passports without your knowledge?”

Meighan: “It would be Ms. Sharon Neal who was the Officer in Charge of that section, so she would have been the one to give the final approval of the passport there.”

Courtenay: “Who would have affixed your signature without your knowledge?”

Meighan: “It would be the Officer in Charge, Ms. [Sharon] Neal.”

Courtenay: “Routinely, passports were issued when you were Director and you had no knowledge of the amount, to whom, they were being issued, you were not concerned with respect to the satisfying of the requirements, that Ms. Neal was just issuing them once she was satisfied and the Director was not aware?”

Meighan: “I am saying that we had a system in place where the officer in charge of the passport section sees through the process of the issuing of passports.”
Today’s Senate hearing concluded at about 2 p.m. Ruth Meighan declined a comment to our newspaper when we approached her. She will not be required to attend the next hearing scheduled for next Wednesday. Instead, Senior Immigration Officers such as Edgar Cano, Gordon Wade and Ms. Ady Pacheco will all be required to present themselves to the Senate Select Committee.

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