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Jan 27, 2017

Speaker Shuts Down Immigration Debate in House; P.M. Says No “Actionable Corruption” Among Ministers Yet

The final words of ex-Director of Immigration Ruth Meighan at her Wednesday appearance before the Senate Special Select Committee continue to reverberate in the national consciousness. She admitted that quite a few persons that the Department nationalized in the rush before general elections in 2012 were not in compliance with the requirements in place and did not qualify to be true Belizeans. It was widely expected that the People’s United Party would respond, and they chose to go through today’s House meeting rather than a planned press conference on Thursday. But their attempt was shut down almost as quickly as it was raised. News Five’s Aaron Humes tells us why in the following report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

The Immigration Department, according to its former Director, Ruth Meighan, was the center of a concerted effort to nationalize citizens hungry to vote in the 2012 general election. It is a common and regular occurrence, except that the ruling United Democratic Party has been accused of using that process to tip the scales in what turned out to be a very close election.

 

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator [File: January 26th, 2017]
“Those persons, whose files were not complete, did not qualify at that time to get Belizean nationality?”

 

Ruth Meighan

Ruth Meighan, Former Director, Immigration Department [File: January 26th, 2017]
“Those persons did not qualify, but the file that was presented, and I could clearly remember my minister coming back and telling me – because we were concerned that the process that the files, they were requesting a lot of files. And we said that we have to ensure that all the applicants meet the requirement for nationality. And that was clearly stated throughout the department, and so, any files that came to us for approval, they were presented as qualified applicant.”

 

 

The Opposition People’s United Party sought to air the dirty laundry displayed in the Senate Special Select Committee on the adjournment of today’s meeting of the House of Representatives, but the Government side would have none of it.

 

John Briceño

John Briceño, Leader of the Opposition

“And the scandal that resulted in thousands of nationality certificates being handed… (Interruption) Man…”

 

Laura Longsworth, Speaker of the House

“He’s on a point of order.”

 

Michael Finnegan, Area Rep., Mesopotamia

“Madam Speaker, on a point of order, Madam Speaker, that Immigration matter is before the Senate Select Committee. Let’s leave it alone, let them come to their conclusion and then we deal with the matter. Please!”

 

Laura Longsworth

“Standing Order forty; Honorable Leader of the Opposition, can you kindly…we need to wait until those proceedings are completed before we deal with that matter.”

 

John Briceño

“Madam Speaker, I’m not anticipating anything, Madam Speaker; I am speaking about something that was said there…”

 

Laura Longsworth

“But the investigation is not completed yet.”

 

John Briceño

“And it’s not only about that I am going to speak about, Madam Speaker…”

 

Laura Longsworth

“But Honorable Member, the proceedings have not…”

 

John Briceño

“Why don’t they want me to speak on this? Why don’t they want me to speak about what this lady said, that there was fraud in that Department coming to the elections of 2012? That’s what she said; she admitted that, Madam Speaker.”

 

Laura Longsworth

“I understand, Honorable Member, but we should wait, based on what the Standing Order says, we should wait until that report, that investigation would be finished and you will have a chance to explore that fully.”

 

According to Prime Minister Dean Barrow, the House’s members are among those barred from “publication” of the proceedings or evidence taken before a Senate Select Committee, despite the express order that the inquiry itself is being held in public. But Caribbean Shores area representative Kareem Musa saw it differently.

 

Kareem Musa

Kareem Musa, Area Rep., Caribbean Shores

“Section eighty speaks to a publication by any member of that Select Committee; none of us in here are members of that Select Committee, so that does not count as a publication in accordance with Section eighty. It says, “The proceedings of and the evidence taken before, any Select Committee, and any documents presented to, and decisions of, such a Committee shall not be published by any Member thereof…”

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Or other person.”

 

Kareem Musa

“Before the Committee; none of us are before the Committee.”

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Or any other person!”

 

Kareem Musa

“Or by any other person before the Committee…”

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“No, no, no sir! Please read? You see. I don’t want to be…”

 

Kareem Musa

“Or by any other… (sits down)”

 

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Look, look, you have been so kind, sorry; we have shown this display of unity, I made up my mind that I will take all the slings and arrows you have to throw at me; but Lord, man, in terms of this, Member: it shall not be published by any Member thereof or by any other person before the Committee has presented its Report. It’s not any other person before who is appearing before the Committee – that doesn’t make sense! Somebody appearing before the Committee can’t publish… (Interruption) Shall not be published by any Member thereof or by any other person, comma, before the Committee has presented its Report.”

 

In the end, the Speaker maintained her original ruling and that was that. Facing the press after the meeting concluded, the Prime Minister stuck to his guns, but was willing to make one important observation.

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“While I am concerned about the whole issue, I am particularly concerned about Ministers, and quite frankly – let’s leave Mister Penner aside – I don’t know that I have heard anything that would suggest to me that any Minister has been guilty of any kind of actionable corruption. There are some terrible appearances; from what I have seen, you might want to question people’s judgment; you might even want to draw some conclusions that some of us might say are ineluctable, but that’s not the same as evidence that is convincing that Ministers engaged in wrongdoing. If such evidence later on is forthcoming, then I will know how to act.”

 

From the National Assembly in Belmopan, Aaron Humes reporting, for News Five.

 

The Opposition Leader and his cohorts left the precincts of the Assembly before we could seek their reaction. It remains to be seen whether Senator Eamon Courtenay, who is a member of the Select Committee, raises the issue at Monday’s meeting of the Senate, or leaves it to the party to speak at a press conference.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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