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Apr 25, 2017

Senate Special Committee Returns on Wednesday

After a hiatus of almost a month due to Easter holidays, the Senate Special Select Committee on Immigration’s public hearings return on Wednesday, with the last witness before the break, Barton Middleton, scheduled to continue his testimony. Immigration officers Therese Chavarria and Omar Phillips are also to be called to testify. The hearings have not lacked drama and news, though not the kind the Government and others concerned may want to hear. The testimony has indicted the Barrow administration and particularly Minister Godwin Hulse for failing to control the rampant and unchecked intervention of Ministers and intimates in Immigration dealings, resulting in heavy loss of face. But there are still many more questions to be answered, and many more witnesses to call. Aaron Humes has a recap.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

The Committee’s public hearings began in November, and very quickly Auditor General Dorothy Bradley had to backtrack on the issue of how wrong Ministers’ recommendations for immigration services were.

 

Aldo Salazar

Aldo Salazar, Chairman, Senate Special Select Committee [File: December 7th, 2016]

“Do you still hold the view that the fact that the Minister made a recommendation for a visa illegal? (Interruption) It’s very simple…”

 

Dorothy Bradley, Auditor General [File: December 7th, 2016]

“No, no, no. It’s not simple. No, no.”

 

Dorothy Bradley

Aldo Salazar

“Is it your view that if a Minister recommends the approval of a visa, that act is illegal?”

 

Dorothy Bradley

“It is irregular and requires further investigation.”


But she stood by the rest of her report, which as former Immigration Director Ruth Meighan conceded in January, showed a ‘rush to judgment’ by the Department that allowed over two thousand undeserving prospective citizens the right to Belizean-ness just before a general 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.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“You now know, Miss Meighan, that many of them were fraudulently prepared?”

 

Ruth Meighan

“Yes.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“They did not qualify for nationality?”

 

Ruth Meighan

“Yes, according the…”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“And obviously did not qualify to be registered to vote?”

 

Ruth Meighan

“Yes.”

 

The next big bombshell came in February, when former administrative officer Teresita Castellanos made a brave and headline-grabbing statement as to the pervasiveness of corruption within the Department she served for many years.

 

Teresita Castellanos

Teresita Castellanos, Former Administrative Officer, Immigration Department [File: February 15th, 2017]

“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 Immigration 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.”

 

The other major story of the inquiry is the eight missing visa foils from the Western Border Station that has exposed a trail of mercenary service for Asian and other nationals in the Department. But Barton Middleton, the man fingered by many as being a mastermind, has denied it – and says the allegations have put him in fear of his life.

 

Aldo Salazar [File: March 29th, 2017]

“The issue that causes you to be put in fear of your life, has to do with your testimony before this committee or is it for some other reason which is unrelated to this Committee hearing?”

 

Barton Middleton

Barton Middleton, Businessman [File: March 29th, 2017]

“It’s related to the hearing.”

 

Aldo Salazar

“So that you are put in fear, not by any direct threat against you, but by your own conclusions about what may happen, is that correct?”

 

Barton Middleton

“It’s difficult to explain. I just – I’ve seen strange cars followed me before, that I’ve never seen, since this situation with – just a sixth sense, …

Out: 3:11… I suppose.”

 

The drama resumes at ten Wednesday morning. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

We will have all the highlights of Wednesday’s testimony in the evening newscast.

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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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