BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Oct. 5, 2017–On Wednesday the Senate Select Committee held its 35th sitting to investigate the findings of the special audit on the Immigration Department. The Director of Immigration, Diana Locke, who was called again to testify, has now made a total of four appearances before the committee.
Immediately after Locke took the oath, Senator Elena Smith directed her to the issue of taxi drivers who, like UDP Ministers and UDP officials and some Immigration officers, were “hustling” at the Immigration Department. When asked if persons at the Immigration Department may have facilitated the taxi drivers in a hustling ring, Locke vehemently denied that notion. Here is a portion of that exchange:
Senator Smith: “I have received information from some persons who have to attend the office regularly. I was informed when they go there, they are there sometimes at 4:30 in the morning, and they would get tickets that are all the way down, 30 something, 20 something. But later they would be asked by either security or taxi persons out there if they would prefer a better number. And if they pay for that number they would be given a better number. Are you aware of that?”
Locke: “Yes, we discussed this last week and it was indeed happening. As a matter of fact, last week we had a case of a number not showing up. When we checked in the evening and the following day, it showed up. I think it was day before yesterday evening the holder of that number was asked to come into the office to determine where he got the number from. It was a gentleman who was acting on behalf of his wife and he indicated to us that he had gotten the number from one of his employees he sent to get it. His response was either a taxi driver or somebody he got it from. But clearly he didn’t get it the correct way. And so we do know it’s going on. We are taking steps to try to track those numbers.”
Senator Smith: “How is it that these numbers get in the hands of these taxi drivers or security? When I go there and I am given a number and I am called into the office, am I not supposed to hand in that number to the clerk or whoever attends to me?”
Locke: “That is correct. When persons have minor errors or errors on their applications and they need to go back to collect, then I believe at that point that’s where this is happening. People go out and when they come back in, they don’t bring back the numbers. And they might not be in sequence anymore because we don’t let them wait until the end of the line. And so they come back in. Sometimes it is collected in the evenings and it doesn’t surface, so we would check everything in the evening.”
Senator Smith: “As an employee, are they not aware that whenever somebody comes in front of you the first thing they do is request the number from them?”
Locke: “Yes. We keep the numbers…I am not sure how the taxi drivers are getting it. We have looked at the cameras. In some cases we can’t identify when things are passing back and forth.”
Senator Smith: “So then, would we then say these numbers get out in the public through the same officers who work in the department because they are the ones who should be collecting?”
Locke: “I don’t have any reasons to believe that my counter clerks are sharing or selling numbers. I definitely believe it is with the taxis, and to some extent with the securities. There are also members of the public who come in there and they facilitate some of these things. The public is equally to be blamed for some of what is happening and I am discovering that more and more each day.”
Senator Smith: “So we are saying that the majority of those numbers are left from persons who come in to get services from the department?”
Locke: “People…can request two numbers because I am getting one for me and I am getting one for you. But you never come in, so that number stays out there.”
Senator Smith: “To address the matter rather than giving numbers, you are taking appointments?”
Locke: “We’re trying to implement that system. We have to run both systems until people get accustomed to it…”
As we had reported, the Central Information Technology Office (CITO) is working with the Immigration Department to provide a platform for online appointments so as to deter the ongoing hustle. This platform, according to Locke, should be ready before the year is over.