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After 1 year and 2 months, no Senate Report on the Immigration Department hearing

The Auditor General’s report had highlighted a number of corrupt practices in that department

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 13, 2019– On September 30, 2016, the Senate approved a motion for a Senate Select Committee to conduct an impartial, independent investigation into the findings of the Auditor General’s Report on the Immigration and Nationality Department for the period 2011 to 2013.

The period of the Auditor General’s Report also covers the Won Kim passport scandal and Elvin Penner, who was the Minister of State in the Immigration Department at the time of that scandal, was one of the persons called to testify at the Senate hearings.

The live broadcast from the Senate Select Committee’s hearings had gripped the attention of Belizeans for a little over a year before it ended in December 2017. During the hearings, a lot of irregularities at the Immigration Department were brought into the public domain. There were even allegations that some prominent individuals who are connected to the present Barrow administration were providing recommendation letters to Asians who wanted to visit Belize.

Since the end of the Senate Select Committee’s hearings, however, there has been nothing but silence, as the country waits for a report from the Senate Select Committee, which was under the chairmanship of United Democratic Party (UDP) Senator, Hon. Aldo Salazar.

Hon. Elena Smith, Senator for the National Trade Union Congress and Civil Society Steering Committee, told us in a telephone interview today, “We are still waiting for a final draft from the chairman.”

Senator Smith said they were supposed to have received the final draft from the chairman at the end of February.

We asked Senator Smith if she knows why it is taking so long for the report to be finalized, and if she is aware if anyone would be held criminally responsible for violating the immigration law, as a result of the findings in the Senate report.

Senator Smith said that for the most part, the report is completed, but they were awaiting the completion of the section of the report that would contain recommendations from the committee.

We asked her to tell us the last piece of information that was communicated to her about the report.

“There were some dates agreed upon, but I have not heard back from the chairman about the recommendation part,” Senator Smith said. “There might be some people who might be charged, but that has not been finalized as yet.”

We also reached out to Hon. Mark Lizarraga, the Senator representing the Belize Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Belize Business Bureau, to get his comments about the long-delayed report on the Immigration Department Senate hearings.

Senator Lizarraga, who is presently out of the country, referred us to the chairman of the committee, Senator Salazar, whom we have tried repeatedly to reach, without success.

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