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Jul 26, 2017

A Small Slice of Drama from Part Two of Committee Hearings

The Senate Special Select Committee has been watercooler talk across Belize since hearings resumed at the end of April. For better or worse, it has been dominated by the behavior of the ruling party, whose members have consistently disparaged the hearing both inside and outside of the National Assembly, and staged a violent insurrection at the May seventeenth hearing based on a grudge against one of the sitting members. It has all made for memorable television and we could spend our entire newscast on a recap. But News Five’s Aaron Humes has this small slice for your palate.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

If the first part of the Senate Committee’s public hearings was dominated by those who did the everyday work of the Immigration Department apart from a few select senior officers, part two has been led by those at the very top – in the Government itself. Unfortunately, as shown in the appearances of former Minister of State for Immigration Elvin Penner on May tenth and seventeenth, they have proven particularly forgetful and uncooperative.

 

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator [File: May 10th, 2017]

“Mr. Penner, I understand you to have said just now that you knew a gentleman by the name of Kim Won Hong?”

 

Elvin Penner

Elvin Penner, Former Minister of State, Immigration and Nationality [File: May 10th, 2017]

“No; his name is Won Hong Kim…”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“But you knew him…”

 

Elvin Penner

“…better known to myself and friends of his as ‘Mr. Kim.’”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Mr. Kim. How and when did you meet Mr. Kim?”

 

Elvin Penner

“Again, that’s a question that I will not answer.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Mr. Penner, can you tell the Committee why you are not answering that question?”

 

Elvin Penner

“I made my statement and my reasons why in my opening statement, and like I said, if that is not sufficient for you to excuse to not answer that question, then the Senate has the full right to do and take whatever actions you all feel is necessary to take.”

 

At the second of Penner’s appearances, chaos enveloped the hearings when members of Alberto August’s ad-hoc protest group targeted Senator Eamon Courtenay and, inadvertently according to them, the press. It prompted widespread condemnation in both houses of parliament and the wider community, which led to stronger security and a reprimand of the House of Representatives’ macebearer, Brian “Yellow Man” Audinett, who was banned from future meetings. The stakes had been raised, and they got even higher when on May thirty-first, for the first time, ministers’ names such as Edmond Castro and Anthony “Boots” Martinez were called in the actual visa recommendation process. The woman calling their names was Alvarine Burgess.

 

Alvarine Burgess

Alvarine Burgess, Whistleblower ]File: May 31st, 2017]

“I went to the Minister’s office; paid him what he requested him to pay him first – he was the first one who collected. If I took six passports and the application forms with the necessary requirements, I had to take twelve thousand dollars to him; if I took four, I had to take eight thousand dollars to him for that recommendation letter. Which his secretary would – they have it in their computer system; they only had to change the name, because the recommendation letter was already posted in the computer – ‘I, Minister Castro is recommending…’ and the names go on that letter; and he would take everything, all the applications except the passports, the Chinese passports, give it to his secretary, who would then get it to the Immigration office.”

 

Of course, Chan, Castro and Martinez all denied any connection with Burgess, and said as much as their individual testimonies. The ministers in particular derided the hearing and their questioners openly and contemptuously.

 

Michel Chebat, P.U.P. Senator [File: July 5th, 2017]

“My question to you, minister…”

 

Anthony “Boots” Martinez, Minister of Human Development [File: July 5th, 2017]

“Your question is out of order, sir.”

 

Michel Chebat

“The recommendations that you made, did those recommendations also include two for Alvarine Burgess.”

 

Anthony “Boots” Martinez

Anthony “Boots” Martinez

“I explained to you, sir, that I did the recommendation on the request of Mr. Zhen Li; I did no recommendation for no Alvarine Burgess.”

 

Michel Chebat

“And when Alvarine Burgess said she paid you two thousand dollars for each recommendation, is that so?”

 

Anthony “Boots” Martinez

“Put it this way: dah political grandstand you want to be on or what? Is that political grandstanding? Alvarine Burgess’ name is not even mentioned in the report, sir!”

 

Michel Chebat

“Why would they specifically go to Minister Castro for a recommendation?”

 

Edmond Castro

Edmond Castro, Minister of Transport and NEMO [File: July 5th, 2017]

“The same way how people from the constituency that you want to run in come to you for recommendations.”

 

Michel Chebat

“Well, they don’t and I don’t sign recommendations.”

 

Edmond Castro

“They don’t because you can’t win. When you learn to win they will come to you.”

 

Michel Chebat

“Perhaps so, Minister, perhaps.”

 

Edmond Castro

“Not anytime soon.”

 

Michel Chebat

“And in this process where you were recommending, how much were you being paid?”

 

Edmond Castro

“Nobody paid me, Senator.”

 

Michel Chebat

“Nobody paid you? None of these Chinese pay you?”

 

Edmond Castro

“Senator, nobody paid me. You can’t pay me for the work and the love that I have for people; you can’t pay me for that.”

 

Michel Chebat

“So when Alvarine said that she paid you two thousand dollars per recommendation, she’s lying?”

 

Edmond Castro

“I think that is P.U.P. smoke.”

 

Michel Chebat

“Wasn’t that part of your case with her?”

 

Edmond Castro

“That’s P.U.P. smoke; you guys are so desperate to get into power you are trying to create fire when there is no fire.”

 

Will Castro’s parting shot bear out? Or is this fire out of the government’s control? The answers will come in September. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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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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