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Sep 13, 2017

The Do’s and Don’ts of the Visa Vetting Committee

This afternoon, with Senator Mark Lizarraga in the chair on behalf of Aldo Salazar, there was further probing into the processes of the Department and in particular the Visa Vetting Committee established in the aftermath of the Penner/Won Hong Kim scandal. Last week, Senator Eamon Courtenay questioned at length the validity of the Committee’s actions and in another line of questioning he elicited from Locke how the Committee goes about its work. He established that the Committee basically relies on the Department for any information it needs to review for visas, and does no investigation on its own.

 

Diana Locke, Director of Immigration

“In making its decision the Committee has the right to ask for additional information.”

 

Eamon Courtenay, P.U.P. Senator

“But there is no provision like that in the law.”

 

Diana Locke

“The Immigration Department has the right to ask for additional information, and I sit on that Committee; so if we see something that does not look right, then we would discuss it and in my capacity as the Director, I can ask for additional information to be provided.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Right. Hence I understand why you are on the Committee. There is nothing set out in this law that authorizes the Committee to establish any particular process?”

 

Diana Locke

“And the Committee doesn’t. That’s done by the Department”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“You don’t have a process – sorry?”

 

Diana Locke

“The Department establishes the requirements and the process and the Committee views the applications.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“So all the Committee does is to…”

 

Diana Locke

“Review the applications.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“And if they have any questions, they ask you and you go about finding it out and come back. What exactly is the Committee doing?”

 

Diana Locke

“Reviewing the information that is provided.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Interpol, for example?”

 

Diana Locke

“The Committee does not interact with Interpol – that was done by the Department.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“That is the question I am asking. We had the C.E.O. of National Security here…”

 

Diana Locke

“Home Affairs?”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“This says National Security; and the Committee, you are telling me, does not interact with Interpol. So you are telling me – correct me if I am wrong – that if an issue arises: someone from Iraq applies for a visa to visit Belize, the Committee will say ‘wait, this needs to go to Interpol’; ask you to send it to Interpol, and when you send it to Interpol, Interpol responds to you, you take it back to the Committee, and then the Committee will ask you what you found out?”

 

Diana Locke

“No, before it goes to the Committee – on the visa list, there is a list of countries that are identified…”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Did you hear Commissioner Whylie when he testified about this?”

 

Diana Locke

“No, I didn’t, but I can tell you that there is a list, there has always been a list, of countries that require security vetting. The applications cannot go – no matter how long the delay takes – it cannot go to the Committee unless that process has been completed.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“Since you were there?”

 

Diana Locke

“No, it’s always been that way.”

 

Eamon Courtenay

“That’s not what he testified but don’t worry about that.”

 

Diana Locke

“As far as I know, and this has been from my time at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, applications have been placed on hold pending a response from the security vetting that was done. Sometimes they take an enormous amount of time, but we cannot proceed without that.”

 

Locke concludes her testimony on September twenty-seventh. We will have more from today’s hearing in Thursday’s 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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