$416,228.25 missing from Sports Council
Hon. Aldo Salazar, where is the Senate Select Committee report on the Elvin Penner/ Immigration Department scandal hearings concluded 2 years ago?
BELMOPAN, Fri. Jan.17, 2020– Audit reports on the National Sports Council and Julian Cho Technical High School were tabled in the House of Representatives this morning by Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Both audit reports paint a disturbing picture of apparent mishandling of public funds at the two government-controlled institutions.
The audit report on the National Sports Council, which covers the period April 2015 to March 2016, catalogues a litany of irregularities in how public funds were handled at the National Sports Council, and it has uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars that cannot be accounted for – to be exact, $416,228.25.
At the National Sports Council, government funds were transferred into the private accounts of a political constituency representative, and cheques for tens of thousands of dollars were made out to individual employees.
Thousands of dollars were paid to the former Minister of State for Sports and Albert area representative, Herman Longsworh, who is presently employed as Belize Consul General in New York City.
Apart from Longsworth, Imer Hernandez, a nephew of Hon. Gaspar Vega, who is often described by the Opposition PUP as “the UDP’s favorite contractor”, getting many millions in government contracts over the years, collected $200,000 from the Sports Council without signing a contract; the audit report disclosed that this may be a violation of the Finance and Audit Reform Act.
The former Acting Sports Council Director, Patrick Henry, has been mentioned a number of times in the audit report. Henry, the report said, not only gave false answers to the auditors, but made out a number of personal cheques to staff members in the region of $50,000. Henry also collected monies for programs which were never held and ran an unauthorized overdraft at the bank.
In tabling the report to the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Barrow told the House, “That audit report needs to go to the Commissioner of Police, who, I expect, will consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions and I would imagine that action by way of criminal prosecutions will take place in the instances where the authorities — the Commissioner and the DPP – decide that the material sustains criminal prosecutions.
“There is one other matter concerning the then Deputy Minister of Sports. Again, the report will go to the Public Accounts Committee, but I do want to say that to the extent that there is an allegation, as it seems to me, of a violation of ethics, conflict of interest, since that deputy minister is no longer in government as a minister, but is the Consul General of Belize in New York, he will certainly have to meet with me and offer me, as natural justice requires, his explanation with respect with what the Auditor General says, and I simply want to assure this House that I will act on the basis of what is in that report.”
Prime Minister Barrow has decided to act on the two most recent reports of Belize’s Auditor General, and he should be commended for doing so.
The Prime Minister, however, did not employ the weight of his high office when the Auditor General submitted the Special Audit of the Immigration and Nationality Department.
Neither did the Prime Minister allow the legal process to go forward until it reached its logical conclusion. Instead, PM Barrow was at pains to distinguish between “factual and legal guilt” of his former Minister of State, Elvin Penner.
Even more notably, none other than the Hon. Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin, gave a mandamus order to the Commissioner of Police to produce a report on the Won Hong Kim passport scandal.
Where is that report? The Director of Public Prosecutions had indicated that there is an indictable offense with which Elvin Penner could be charged, that has no statute of limitation. What this means is that Penner could be charged right now for allegedly selling that Belize passport to Won Hong Kim.
PM Barrow was only content to fire Penner from his Cabinet, but did nothing to allow the criminal justice system to proceed by seeing to it that Penner was criminally charged, as he should have done, using his “corruption machete.”
The Penner passport scandal does not even rest there; a private prosecution was launched by the organization Citizens Organized for Liberty Through Action (COLA). The Police Department, under the leadership of former Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, failed to assist the private prosecution with the necessary evidence in their possession. As a result, that case failed in the court.
In December 2017, the Special Senate Select Committee wrapped up its public hearing and the senators on the Select Committee went to work on producing their committee’s report, but after two years, the Chairman of the Special Senate Select Committee, United Democratic Party senator Aldo Salazar, for no good reason, has not yet produced the report.
Feature photo: (L-R) Patrick Henry, Aldo Salazar, Imer Hernandez and Herman Longsworth