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Sunday, October 17, 2021
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Illicit enrichment

While all fingers have been pointed at Glenn D. Godfrey in the $40 million Intelco deals with the Social Security Board, there is wide public sentiment that some public sector official got a major cut from the pie.

Also, with the DFC now run into the ground, there is also speculation that some public official personally benefited from a large chunk of DFC funds.

The BTL deals are shrouded in the same sort of speculation: that even though all fingers have been pointed at Michael Ashcroft as the beneficiary, some public official profited personally from the buy-back and resale of BTL shares; some public official benefited from the exchanges of US$100 million on the black market.

Some of those who have argued these positions pointedly say that the Government would not have placed so much of the public?s money at risk in Social Security, would not have allowed the DFC to bleed to death, would not have allowed Ashcroft to fill up his coffers with so much tax dollars, and would not have turned a blind eye to the illegal exchange of foreign currency if somebody really influential in the Government service?someone in a key office?was not getting a cut.

The case of the Companies Registry may appear similarly speculative. The former Attorney General, Hon. Godfrey Smith, signed what is understood to be an illegal contract to privatize the registry. The owners creamed tens of millions in an arrangement that gave them 80% of all stamp duties collected, plus fees paid into the registry.

Smith has vehemently denied Opposition charges that he is a silent partner?and thus a direct beneficiary?of the deal.

But we ask: Why would he, as one of the trustees of the public purse, have entered into such a deal?taking the risk of engaging in such a blatantly wrong transaction?if there was not significant personal benefit gained? Could he, a member of the ruling party, love a member of the Opposition and a private businessman so much to have placed his own political career at risk? Why would Smith have risked his political career to give such a sweetheart deal to Denys Barrow and David Jenkins?

We think there is the strong possibility that in all the major controversies over public funds, in the deals that have so obviously gone against the favor of the Belizean people, that SOME PUBLIC OFFICIAL WAS ENRICHED.

We point to Intelco, BTL, Social Security and DFC. We point to the whole process of securitization: over $200 million of funds were brought into Belize. Yet the economy is in more of a wreck than before securitization. We have to ask – where did the money go?

We?ve taken on over $2 billion in public debt and have very little to show for it. We have to ask – where did the money go? We don?t see it out here in the streets. We don?t see it in our communities. For the most part, we don?t see it in the business community. So where did all the money go?

Our Ombudsman thinks that the Senate investigation into the Social Security Board and the DFC Commission of Inquiry will not indict any public official. As he states in his letter, which we published in last weekend?s Amandala, he presupposes, even before the investigations are complete, that, ??no one would be indicted for criminal conduct as the enemies of the Government believe and hope for.? This is coming from a man who is supposed to impartially investigate citizens? complaints on wrongdoing and the infringement of their rights.

We concede that perhaps the fingerprints of public officials on all those millions that have been leeched from the public purse may never be detected. We may never find concrete evidence establishing who really stole the cookie from the cookie jar, but that will not erase our conviction that indeed the cookies are gone and someone is responsible.

We are only left to inspect those who were near the cookie jar to see if they have put on some extra pounds. Cookies, if you eat too many of them, are generally fattening.

The Integrity Commission should be looking for the fattened cows or for the stashed cookies. We have a law on the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life that provides a framework within which this process can be undertaken.

We know that the Belize Governance Improvement Commission (BGIC) had been working to promote an illicit enrichment law, which it said had been sanctioned by Cabinet, but not yet finalized. The truth is, however, the laws are only as good as those who enforce them.

We?ve heard from the Integrity Commission how really hamstrung they are without the proper financial resources and human resources to do their job. The BGIC claims that its work was rendered futile because the Government seemingly did not want good governance.

Still, it is said that sound good governance policies and practices are our safeguard against corruption, including such things as illicit enrichment. We wonder if the reason why GOB has not ensured an enabling environment for the Integrity Commission and the BGIC is simply because these entities threaten to stop certain Government officials from making off with too many sweets at the expense of taxpayers.

We think that those in the position to maintain a check and balance, to curb illicit enrichment, need to step up to the plate: the Public Accounts Committee and the Integrity Commission are two premier bodies that can. We question: Do they have the will? For where there is a will, there is certainly a way! And if the right way is followed, we will reach our destination and curb this massive raping of the masses once and for all.

Long live Belize! Que viva Belice!

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