“Culture of Corruption and Hustling” Swamped Immigration, Senate Committee Hears
The public hearings of the Senate Special Select Committee on Immigration have moved into high gear and today under oath, a bombshell was dropped from an unexpected corner. In the first six sessions of the Committee, from the end of November to the end of January, not counting holidays and other breaks, just three witnesses were called: Auditor General Dorothy Bradley supported by Supervisor of Audit Carla Faber; and the former Director and Deputy Director of the Immigration Department, Ruth Meighan and Maria Marin. But in just the past three weeks, the Committee has seen no less than six witnesses, and planned to call three more today, with a fourth – former Administrative Officer Teresita Castellanos – returning from last week. Her bombshell admission to the Committee came near the end of her testimony this morning in a prepared statement. Castellanos destroyed those harbouring any illusion about a culture of corruption at the Immigration Department. The question had been a topic addressed to nearly all previous visitors who gave mostly guarded answers. Castellanos, however, bluntly told the Committee that without the benefit of rose-tinted glasses, she saw, ‘in the belly of the beast’ in her words, consistent, pervasive corruption that reduced the trust of the people in this most vital of organs.
Teresita Castellanos, Former Administrative Officer, Immigration Department
“The Department headed by the Acting Director, Miss Maria Marin, and her small team – including myself [as] the Administrative Officer – made many attempts to stop the rampant malpractices that plagued the Department. The job to fix the problem was too difficult to accomplish; the reason being was there was not the support from our ministry. We considered – and I will read verbatim because I have to say what I have to say today – we considered ourselves orphans of the Ministry of Labour, Local Government and it ended with the Immigration Department. The Department became important when a document needed approval; we became infamous with scandals, but even so the support was just not there. Yes, the culture was there… is there…. it still is – but there are persons who are trying to pretend they don’t know what culture exists at the Department. I may not have another opportunity to say what I have to say to the Belizean people. Some may even ask what gives me the right to talk, but today I do. I was in the belly of the beast; I was in the Immigration Department for three years and am among those named in the Auditor General’s Report. This gives me the right to say the following: the Immigration Department has an entrenched culture of corruption and hustling; milking the cow we say, from the very top to the very bottom of the ladder. No politician can force any public officer to do illegal acts when performing our job. And if we do, then we have to face the same consequences as the politicians, for the Belizean people are demanding justice. There are a few good honest and dedicated officers, but there were not enough trusted staff to oversee the daily operations of the sections and at the district offices and border stations. The call for help was not answered and this inquiry is the result.”