BELIZE CITY, Mon. Feb. 15, 2021– On Monday, Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight appeared before the Commission of Inquiry that was established to carry out a probe into the sale of government assets prior to the general elections in November 2020. Waight holds the authority to sign off on the sales of government assets when a determination has been made that those assets are no longer functional or have reached the end of their period of usefulness to the government.
Recommendations for the sale of such items are typically made by the Asset and Utility Care Management Unit, of which the Vehicle Care Unit is just a part. The head of the unit, Ruperto Vicente, would make recommendations, and according to him, would then follow directives given by the former Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, and Financial Secretary Waight.
During his presentation, Waight told the members of the commission that there is some leniency in the sale of assets that have been determined to be “unserviceable” — a term that is used to indicate that vehicles and other assets have passed their useful life and are beyond repair. It was revealed in the afternoon sessions of the proceeding, however, that this term was used widely and indiscriminately to classify vehicles in perfect working condition in some instances.
Waight further informed the commission that during the period in question, from October 2019 to November 2020, about 112 vehicles were sold. Some of those vehicles were considered unserviceable, while others were in need of parts and major repairs. Others, however, were sold to top public officers, and these sales were deemed by Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, and Financial Secretary Waight to be “special favors.”
Such a special favor was afforded to the former Deputy Prime Minister, Hugo Patt, who, according to the records, procured a 2020 Toyota Tacoma on November 4, 2020. Records also show that Carla Barnett was also sold the government vehicle she had been using, on October 14 of the same year. The former President of the Court of Appeals was also allowed to buy his vehicle, and the records revealed that both the former Comptroller of Customs, Colin Griffith, and the former Commissioner of Land, Wilbert Vallejos, were allowed to buy vehicles.
In addition to the sale of the vehicles, 9 laptops were sold to Cabinet CEOs, for as low as $500. In another instance, the former Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte, requested to purchase the furniture used at his office. The assertion is that the pieces of furniture were customized specifically for the former AG’s use, and as a result were sold to him as another “special favor.” He was also sold his laptop, which had a purchase price of $6000, for $3500.
Financial Secretary Waight then went on to outline the sales which were executed from September 2020 until the days just prior to the general elections.
According to Waight, a total of 20 vehicles were sold from the end of September to the run-up to the general elections. One person was also allowed to buy 8 ATV’s, and others were allowed to purchase motorcycles at very low prices — prices that were reportedly set by the Financial Secretary and Vehicles Care Unit after a valuation from the Customs Department, in some cases.
“Again, the 7th of October, to Collin Griffith, a 2016 Toyota Hilux for $5000 dollars,” Waight further listed.
In reference to this vehicle sale to Griffith, the Chairman of the Commission, Andrew Marshalleck, SC, asked if there had been an evaluation by the Customs Department. The vehicle, believed to be in working condition, was sold to the now-retired Comptroller for a fraction of the market value.
Subsequently, in response to Waight’s description of the sale of “a 2018 Isuzu D-max in running condition,” to Carla Barnett on October 14, Marshalleck observed, “That one is not described as unserviceable?”
Waight then replied, “No, it’s described as running. The price there was $21,165.00.”
“When we come to the 4th of November, the 4th of November there was a sale to Minister Hugo Patt of a 2020 Toyota Tacoma in running condition for $65,000,” he went on to note.
The records show that one Juvencia Herrera was the person who purchased the vehicle on the former Minister’s behalf.
“Leading up to the election, we did retain several, didn’t sell them. Requests were coming from Ministers, requests were coming from CEO’s, except the ones mentioned, but we didn’t sell them, and we had in the yard 19 vehicles that were running and operating, and those were turned over to the new government,” the Financial Secretary informed the commission.
“The practice has been in the past, that public officials would ask to take their vehicles, depending on their circumstances, the government would have considered, as a thank you. But given the particular times, we tried to hold that down.” Waight commented.
Marshalleck then retorted, “But it was still done in several instances, to consideration to what is largely the benefit of the public officers? Rather than the financial detriment of the country? It’s a way of giving him something when he leaves? As a benefit to him?”
Waight replied, “Well, you know, it’s not a giveaway.”
Marshalleck countered, “$5000 for a Hilux?”
“I don’t know the condition of the vehicle,” Waight then responded.
“Well, we’ll find out,” Marshalleck said.
Marshalleck then, in concluding the session, asked:
“Leading up to the General Elections, nobody knows what will happen. Why is there a rush to buy assets, why is there any motivation, let’s not say a rush, to buy office furniture and computer equipment on the part of CEO and Attorney Generals and Commissioners of Lands and Comptrollers of Customs? Why would they even contemplate that they would need these things? And need them in their personal names?”
In reply, Financial Secretary Waight said, “I can’t speak for them, but they may have decided that they have come to the end of their career with the Government.”