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Penner and Castro removed by Committee of Selection

BELIZE CITY–On the occasion of Friday’s House meeting, the Committee of Selection led by Mesopotamia area representative Michael Finnegan removed Cayo North East representative Elvin Penner as chair of the Public Utilities, Transport and Communications Committee and replaced him with the Lake I area representative Mark King.

Meanwhile, Albert Division area rep Herman Longsworth was installed as chair of the Public Service, Labour, Industry and Trade Committee in place of Belize Rural North representative Edmund Castro.

Both Penner and Castro, who have acted as ministers of state or junior ministers, were at the center of a hailstorm of controversy in late 2013 over allegations of impropriety in public office.

Penner lost his Immigration portfolio after allegations that he facilitated the issuance of a Belizean passport to Won Hong Kim while he was behind bars in Taiwan. In January, Castro lost Civil Aviation after concerns were raised over the manner in which the Belize Airports Authority was issuing funds for or on Castro’s behalf, with at least three checks allegedly made out to him.

While there was no announcement of these committee changes at Friday’s meeting, legislative matters were detailed, including matters that will be considered at the next sitting of the Senate on Thursday.

On that occasion, the Senate will take a look at the two bills which the House of Representatives approved on Friday: the amendments to the Insurance Act and the Gaming Control Act.

Three money motions approved by the House Friday will also be tabled. They are the $20 million capitalization motion for the National Bank of Belize, a US$20 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank for the education sector, and the conversion of a $12.27 million loan from the Belize Water Services to a grant.

The $835,543 write-off motion for the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association approved by the House Friday is not on the agenda.

Finally, two papers are due to be tabled: the Annual Report of the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the Annual Report of the Social Investment Fund (SIF).

The amendments to the Telecommunications Act and the Electricity Act were only introduced on Friday and not approved, and so they won’t be tabled at the Senate Thursday.

At the House meeting, Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca, area representative for Freetown, took issue with Barrow pushing all the motions through in a single sitting of Parliament.

Fonseca said that when Barrow was in the Opposition for 10 years, he railed to no end about that. He also complained that the Opposition had no opportunity to see the proposed motions and discuss them in caucus, and demanded that the Opposition be provided with the money motions before they attended the sitting of Parliament so that they could effectively participate in the debate.

“Everybody knows, he railed for 10 years. Now he seems to have mastered the practice in his 7th year as Prime Minister of this country,” said Fonseca.

“Life is an extremely funny thing,” Finnegan said in response. “The Leader of the Opposition just said the Prime Minister railed for 10 years when he was on that side of the House… for 10 years and all through the 10 years when he was raising hell they did nothing to correct it! Now all of a sudden you want to correct it… You should have done something about it then!”

Barrow said that he never complained for the sake of complaining, but only when controversial motions were raised, “such as when they had wasted by way of their corrupt arrangements all the money on the soy bean project then you come to the House and you seek to write if off all in one day.”

Barrow threatened to put a hold on certain money motions, including the bill for the write-off to the cane farmers, but he swiftly recanted.

By the end of the day’s sitting on Friday afternoon, Parliament had approved the four money motions.

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