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Jul 30, 2002

Report cites corruption; Castellanos suspended

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The report is in, that is the report on alleged irregularities in the Immigration Department. It was compiled by C.E.O. in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Alan Usher, and presumably faxed or emailed to Prime Minister Said Musa, who is on a working visit to Guatemala. What government has released to the media is a statement by the Prime Minister–or at least his office–that outlines the findings of the Usher report and goes on to recount action taken and recommendations for future action. The release arrived late this evening and this is not the kind of issue suited to instant analysis. Suffice to say, despite the appearance of some initial obfuscation, the statement generally supports the overall accusations being made in the media that corruption in the granting of Belizean nationality is rampant… and seeks to correct that situation. So viewers can best form their own opinions I will read the release in its entirety.

On Friday July nineteenth, 2002 Prime Minister Said Musa directed the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mr. Alan Usher, to carry out an administrative inquiry into public allegations of fraud and corruption at the Immigration and Nationality Department in respect of the processing and issuance of Immigration and Nationality documents.

On Monday July twenty-ninth, 2002 C.E.O. Usher concluded his report and submitted it to the Office of the Prime Minister. The report makes the following findings and recommendations:

1. No nationality applications have been processed under the Belize Economic Citizenship Programme as of January fourteenth, 2002 when the programme was formally discontinued by the Government of Belize.

2. All nationality applications and passport applications were fully completed and contained all information required by law.

3. All passport application files examined contained evidence supporting Belizean nationality.

4. Seventeen Belize Nationality Applications were reviewed based on allegations of irregularities. The applications of Shou-Jung Yang and Shou-Chien Yang, both minors, disclosed no irregularities. The minors received Belizean Nationality by virtue of their father, Chih Min Yang, who qualified for and acquired Belizean nationality in accordance with the five-year legal requirement.

5. Applicants number eight, nine, ten, eleven, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen and seventeen do not have permanent residence status in Belize, but passport stamps provide evidence of arrival in Belize prior to five years ago allowing them to qualify for Belizean nationality by virtue of Section ten, one-B of the Belize Nationality Act Chapter one sixty-one of the Laws of Belize.

6. The remaining Belize Nationality Applications reviewed and examined disclosed no irregularities.

7. Of concern is the fact that of the seventeen, Belize Nationality Applications reviewed, sixteen of them contained the same referees and Justice of the Peace supporting those application, generally at the request of an “immigration consultant/agent”. The application process depends on the integrity of referees and Justices of the Peace, and therefore creates an opportunity for fraud and abuse where such integrity is lacking.

8. Also of concern is the potential for fraud and abuse by virtue of the backdating of immigration Department arrival stamps to facilitate an applicant’s qualification for Belizean Nationality. This requires further investigation.

9. Twenty-three passport applications were reviewed and examined based on allegations of irregularities. The process of the passport applications was found to be procedurally correct. The process is dependent on applicants producing either a birth certificate or a nationality certificate and addresses on passports refer to Nationality documents in the case of acquired citizenship. Once again, the potential for fraudulent backdating of arrival stamps and the questionable integrity of referees and Justices of the Peace give rise to concern and requires further investigation.

10. All applicants for Nationality submitted for the signature of the Minister of Immigration were found to satisfy all the necessary legal requirements and were given security clearance by the Special Branch Division of the Police Department.

Recommendations:

1. The Government of Belize must immediately undertake a full comprehensive review of the Operations of the Immigration and Nationality Department and Belize’s Immigration and Nationality Policy.

2. Close the existing “loophole”, which occurs at Section ten, one-B of the Belizean Nationality Act, Chapter one sixty-one of the Laws of Belize to ensure residence of applicants in Belize for the required five year period and to provide for Nationality and passport applications to be presented in person ending once and for all the unacceptable and potentially corrupting role and influence of immigration consultants/agents.

3. Propose and implement clear internal regulations at the Immigration and Nationality Department mandating accurate verification of information contained in Nationality and Passport applications, and require legal vetting of all applications by a designated legal officer prior to approval.

4. Commence immediate investigation by the Belize Police Department acting in consultation with the Office of the Director of Public prosecutions in order to determine whether or not any criminal acts have occurred and if so, the nature and extent of such acts.

5. Place the Direction of Immigration, Mr. Paulino Castellanos, on suspension pending the completion of the police investigation and in the interim put in place a new director who can instil trust and confidence in the department.

6. Upgrade the technology and equipment available to the Immigration Department to improve supervision and control of the application process.

Actions taken:

1. The Hon. Prime Minister has directed the C.E.O. in the Ministry of Home Affairs to prepare a comprehensive report on Belize’s Immigration Policy and the operations of the Immigration and Nationality Department for Cabinet’s review and action.

2. The Solicitor General has been directed to carry out a review of the Belize Nationality Act, Chapter one, sixty-one of the Laws of Belize with the goal of removing all opportunity and potential for fraud and corruption that may now exist within the current letter and intent of the Law.

3. The report of C.E.O. Usher along with all documents and information relating thereto will be handed over to the Commissioner of Police, who acting in consultation with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions will undertake an immediate investigation of all matters and persons involved including, but not limited to immigration consultants/agents, Immigration Department Officials, Referee’s and Justices of the Peace.

4. The C.E.O. in the Ministry of Home Affairs has written to the Public Service Commission requesting that effective July thirtieth, 2002 the present Director of Immigration, Mr. Paulino Castellanos be placed on suspension from his duties pending further investigations.

5. The Government of Belize reiterates its commitment to a policy of zero-tolerance for impropriety, fraud, and corruption at any level of administration. The Immigration and Nationality Department provides a vital and important service to the Belizean people, and no effort will be spared in ensuring the integrity, trust and confidence of that office.

As government investigations go, this one rates high for promptness and candour. C.E.O. Usher and Prime Minister Said Musa deserve congratulations for their work so far. But initiatives like these have a way of losing momentum, particularly during an election year. While it appears that Immigration Director Paulino Castellanos has taken the fall, it is clear that he did not operate alone. With due respect to the police and Director of Public Prosecutions, this station will continue its own investigation into the immigration scandal…and one thing we can guarantee is that the results are not going to be pretty.

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