News broke around midday on Monday of yet another scandal in the government, this one involving foreign parties who acquired status in Belize during a period when high-ups in the United Democratic Party (UDP) government were running amok, trampling on all the regulations set in place to ensure that persons who acquired permanent residency or citizenship status in Belize, were worthy. The Love FM news desk said they had in their possession a document in which a party who had pleaded guilty to fraudulent activities in the USA had named a Cabinet minister in the UDP government and a government official as facilitators in the scheme.
The first response of the Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow, whenever he is confronted with allegations of wrongdoing by members of his party, is to lie back and call for his party’s accusers to prove it. Just about the only time he is moved to immediate action is when it involves the Immigration Department.
There is a simple enough reason that the Prime Minister jumps when the corruption involves immigration. Government ministers, and the Prime Minister, can run over us on all local issues with their mighty power as the government of the day, but immigration is under the surveillance of the powerful USA.
Regular Belizeans seem to understand US concern over who gets citizenship here more than many of our elected politicians do. Who gets our citizenship has always been of interest to the Americans, but ever since the bombing of strategic buildings in that country on September 11, 2001, they have greater interest in persons who apply for citizenship in our country.
The 1984-1989 UDP government began an economic citizenship program, and this was a boon for the economy and for individuals who recruited foreigners to apply for citizenship. After a few years the Belizean people became disenchanted with the economic citizenship program, and they demanded that it come to an end. Successive governments promised to respect the wishes of the people, but the program did not officially wind up until 2002, a year after the attack on the US.
In 2002, the Government of Belize stopped collecting funds under the economic citizenship program, but the flow of cash to individuals who could identify, attract and “help” wealthy foreigners to acquire Belize’s citizenship did not stop.
For hustling government officials, the money to be made by facilitating citizenship was just too much and just too easy to be made, and if it didn’t continue during the PUP years from 2002 to 2008 it certainly did when the UDP returned to government in February of 2008. Frenzied, like predator fish on sprat, UDP officials facilitated citizenships hand over fist, and their feeding didn’t end until they assisted a wealthy South Korean, Wong Hong Kim, in acquiring our citizenship.
Kim, wanted for embezzlement and being investigated by Interpol, was languishing in a jail in Taiwan at the time he received our nationality and passport. Everyone remembers the Prime Minister’s anguished plea to his wayward ministers, to stop their corruption before they brought down his government.
The Prime Minister might have appeared sincere then, but his cover-up of the misdeeds to protect his party was played with a cold hand. The UDP government had no choice but to fire Mr. Elvin Penner, the Minister responsible for Wong Hong Kim’s acquiring a Belizean passport, but they made sure that he wasn’t prosecuted in a court for the violations.
In 2014 the Chief Justice of Belize, Hon. Kenneth Benjamin, after listening to arguments in court by Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), ordered the police to get on with the investigation of the Penner/Kim scandal, but the police, believed to be acting on instructions from the government, stonewalled. The police never pursued the case against Penner.
The UDP’s plan to hide the misdeeds of other members of the party who were involved in the passport scandal was upended when Belize’s most active union, the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), led the way in essentially forcing them to set up a Special Select Committee in the Senate to investigate all the immigration scandals in government, including the Penner affair. The committee was approved in 2016, and here we are in 2020 and we still have not seen the official report. It is clear that the intention of government is to keep the report away from us as long as possible.
The present government has taken the art of covering up corruption to new levels, and it is for sure they have had a tremendous amount of practice since 2012 when they won a second consecutive term in office.
They really have had a lot of practice. A lot of UDP misdeeds were exposed at the Senate Special Select Committee; there is the disgraceful Sanctuary Bay scam that is still not completely settled, and now along comes another sorry allegation involving hustling government officials.
We’ve seen the Prime Minister at work covering up rot many times before, so when the mud splattered over the UDP camp this week, we all knew that he would call a press conference stacked with his party faithful wherein the usual Prime Ministerial video and verbal performance would follow. Many years ago, the atmosphere at these Barrow press conferences became one in which the media of Belize are intimidated.
A Mr. Lev Dermen, who reportedly acquired Belizean nationality in 2013, is wanted for tax fraud in the USA, and his purported game plan was that, after getting his papers, he would grease his way into favors from Belizean government officials who would help him get some form of diplomatic status that would aid him in carrying out his fraudulent activities. Mr. Dermen is in a maximum security jail in the US and the allegations about his affairs in Belize were made by a Mr. Jacob Kingston, one of his partners in the crimes for which he is charged.
In his press conference called Wednesday afternoon, the Prime Minister, as expected, had zero surprises. He named some PUP members who weren’t saints, as usual. He said that he wasn’t happy about the accusations being made about unnamed ministers, that all the members of his Cabinet denied receiving funds from Mr. Dermen, and that if it turns out that any of them is lying to him, they will be dealt with. He said that there isn’t anything more to do at this time because he wasn’t presented with proof.
Old dogs don’t learn new tricks and leopards never change their ways. The UDP produces rot. The Prime Minister covers it.