I was fired from the Immigration Department for trying to stop corruption, says former Director, Maria Marin
BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. Nov. 29, 2017–Former Director of the Department of Immigration and Nationality Services (DNS), Maria Marin, made her second appearance before the Senate Special Select Committee, whose job it is to investigate the findings of an audit into the practices at that controversial department.
At the start of today’s hearing, Marin read a four-page document providing an overview of her time in office.
In her address, she said that she had wanted to improve the department but was first met by resistance, then intimidation, and finally victimization when she was booted from the department without explanation.
Marin said that she joined the department in April of 2009 as the Deputy Director, but in February 2013 she was offered the post of Director, which she assumed later that month, until April 2016 when she was transferred.
According to her, when she joined the department she told the Minister responsible for Immigration, Hon. Godwin Hulse, and the Chief Executive Officer in the Immigration ministry, Candelaria Saldivar Morter, that she had a vision of raising the bar and standards of the department through systematic changes. She claims that Hulse and Morter expressed their “firm support” in that undertaking.
She first tackled the visa application process, which she noted was “a very haphazard one.”
Marin explained that she requested that all visa applications be subjected to the proper process, which entailed a review for completeness and the accompaniment of mandatory documentation. She also assigned the vetting of these applications to the investigation unit of the department, which then forwarded them to the Officer in Charge of the section for his or her recommendation, which then formed the basis for her approval.
Marin revealed that prior to this, some applications did not undergo the required processes, due to political interference.
She claimed that in 2013, she was even advised by the then substantive Minister, Senator Godwin Hulse, that, “a specific process was to be followed for those visa applications recommended/supported by Ministers.”
That process would allow for those applications to be vetted by the Ministry, and then handed down to the department. According to Marin, she had insisted that all applications go through the newly implemented process of “being complete, meeting requirements, having supporting documents attached and being vetted.”
Marin sought legal advice on this matter that same year. However, she did not reveal what occurred then. During her tenure, Marin also introduced a new security feature to the Belize Nationality Certificate (BNC).
A small embossed seal was placed on the BNC, exclusively at the swearing-in ceremony. However, this process received no substantive approval until Marin’s transfer.
Marin further claimed that “Decisions on changes and concrete actions for implementation addressing the identified weaknesses and loopholes, and to strengthen the processes and systems, were disseminated to all Port Commanders and Officers in Charge at all times.”
However, those personnel were often “non-responsive,” she said.
As a result of this, in November 2013 she requested an urgent meeting with Hulse and Morter, “advising of much resistance which in turn affected cooperation in effecting changes for improvement at the department.”
According to Marin, much effort was expended on stemming the constant interference in the operations and functions of the department, but the challenges were overwhelming and insurmountable due to insufficient support from her Ministry.
Despite a lack of support from the Ministry, Marin claimed that she and a handful of staff were able to make some improvements in the areas of record management, trainings, meetings, formal information sharing, written recorded correspondences and departmental needs assessments, as well as monitoring and assistance in recording and accounting of responsibilities.
“The zeal and passion of this small team to raise the standards, integrity, reputation and overall delivery of the department’s mandate was instrumental,” she said.
She added that those staffers went outside of the confines of their job descriptions to assist in the investigations of cases like that of Wilhelm (Dyck), Wong Hong Kim and David Nanes.
At the end of those investigations, reports were written up and recommendations for disciplinary action were also made, but according to Marin, because of a lack of support from the Ministry, business continued as usual inside the department.
“Officers wantonly flaunted their influence” above her, she said.
In her address, Marin refuted any claims that she refused access to any files or documents to the police or any investigating body.
“I was the person who called in, met with the police and provided them written statements regarding these very cases and in more serious cases, and did so in the presence of the very substantive Minister [Hulse] and the CEO [Morter],” she explicated.
Marin also refuted any claim that there were no set procedures for the processes governing the services of the department. According to her, these guidelines would not have always been elaborate, but they were always in black-and-white for each head of section to share with the staff under their supervision.
Marin told the committee that she worked long and tirelessly to improve the department. “It was a daunting and exhausting effort,” she said, even more so that during her tenure she had no Deputy Director to assist her.
According to her, it was the love for her country that kept her going despite, “many hindrances, threats, and yes, political chastisement.”
The intimidations, she revealed, included her tires being slashed and ice-picked, voodoo dolls being put in her vehicle, and her transfer from the department without any justified reason under then Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration, Beverly Williams.
In 2016, the Ministry decided to demote Marin to Deputy Director, which she said was unacceptable, as she had met all academic and Public Service Regulations requirements.
According to her, it was never explained why she was being demoted.
“I can only surmise that it was due to my fervent standpoint and backbone to change the pervasively negative status quo of the department which would no longer cater to the whim and fancy of all and sundry,” she said.
Marin explained that being at the helm of the Immigration Department requires strength of character, and persons with backbone, not “wishbone”.
According to Marin, the department could have been better off if it had been provided with more assistance and commitment.
“I find it necessary to make these last statements in light of the disregard for honesty displayed by some who have appeared before this honorable house despite being under oath, and the wrongly placed negativity and ill-reports of my integrity and reputation, which I have always guarded,” said Marin.
After that address, Marin, joined by her legal counsel, Darrell Bradley, responded to questions posed by the Senate Special Select Committee in an exchange which is seen elsewhere in this issue of the newspaper.