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Nov 27, 2017

Audit’s tough questions for B.D.F.

An executive summary of the Auditor General’s Report on Belize Jungle Experience Limited, dated the seventh of June, 2017 has been obtained by News Five. It details the transactions between Lieutenant Colonel Charlton Roches, his company Belize Jungle Experience Limited, and his employers, the Belize Defence Force for training of the German Military. As has been established, his company, based at two addresses in Belize City, was paid handsomely for a training exercise in 2016 in which costs may have been overestimated. What’s more, the company was not specifically created for that purpose. So what’s going on? News Five’s Aaron Humes takes a closer look.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

The army paid some one hundred and fifty-two thousand dollars for a jungle course for members of the German Army on July first, 2016. But who requested the invoice? Who was it sent to – the Germans or Jungle Experience, and was there any follow-up? The Audit finds that the one of the same persons who deposited the check to the B.D.F. Fund drawn on Scotia Bank on June thirtieth apparently signed the check as well. There were also transactions for diesel generator analysis for nine hundred dollars where it was requisitioned nine days before the purchase order and eleven days before the invoice. Previously as well, a check for five thousand dollars was issued for German training on May twentieth, 2016, specifically transport, which should be refunded and questions asked as to whether Commander, now retired Brigadier General David Jones, the Force Adjutant and the Force Finance Officer knew what was going on. Most importantly, how was a B.D.F. soldier, even a senior one, allowed to conduct business with his employers? Lieutenant Colonel Roches is now on leave, but these are the questions keeping both the political and military leaders up at night.

 

Prime Minister Dean Barrow (File: November 1, 2017)

“I only know what I saw, but I will speak to the Minister of Defence and the officials in the ministry. Clearly there is a need for a thoroughgoing investigation, and I am positive – I will certainly insist that no stone is left unturned to get to the bottom of this. It sounds and looks bad but I guess final judgment must be suspended until the investigation is concluded.  But investigation there will be. The whole thing is murky; that’s the rub, isn’t it, that there is a suggestion that parallel enterprises were being run – one in the name of the Government, one in the name of this private company. It must be sorted out.”

 

John Briceño

John Briceño, P.U.P. Leader (File: November 17, 2017)

“I think that the little we have seen – because I have not seen the report; I managed to get a quick look of what people saw afterwards – I think it is symptomatic of this U.D.P. Government. Here we have the most corrupt government this country has ever seen – the corruption is at every single level, you can see the corruption is at every single Ministry in the Government and most of it is being headed by the political directorate – either the Ministers themselves or the people that they have appointed in there. When you go to, for instance, the Belize Airports Authority, you will see the corruption taking place. It has spread like a cancer in Government, and I hope the Auditor General can put some kind of pressure on the Prime Minister, Minister of Finance, to bring that report to the public so that the entire Belizean populace can take a look and can also start to make judgment.”

 

Colonel Steven Ortega, Acting Commander, Belize Defence Force (File: November 24, 2017)

Colonel Steven Ortega

“As the Ministry has spoken, that this is still an ongoing investigation; the audit is still being investigated and everything, so I will not comment further on that matter.”

 

Reporter

“Sir, is the gentleman, Mr. Roches, is he still on active duty? Is he on any kind of interdiction, leave, to ensure that his role in this particular investigation is properly investigated?”

 

Colonel Steven Ortega

“He is presently on leave.”

 

Reporter

“Any timeline in terms of when the investigation might be completed?”

 

Colonel Steven Ortega

“I’m not sure; I’m not the one conducting the investigation, so I’m not sure. I will have to find out when is the proposed timeline.”

The Audit report makes recommendations as to establishing protocol for separating private business from work done for the B.D.F. and proposes strengthening of internal controls to prevent a repeat occurrence.

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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