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Apr 28, 2000

Espat loses immigration portfolio in cabinet shuffle

It dropped on the nation’s capital like a cold water balloon on a sultry afternoon. A minor cabinet shuffle…but with major implications. Four changes of portfolio were announced today and it appears that the man taking a rap on the knuckles is Jorge Espat. Espat, who holds the key position of Minister of National Security–that is the army and police–will keep that powerful post but will have to do without the important Department of Immigration. That responsibility–which involves the granting of visas, permanent residencies and passports–will shift to Minister of Public Utilities, Energy and Communication Max Samuels. Samuels, it may be recalled, in an earlier career had served as the nation’s Commissioner of Police.

The second cabinet change appears to be a fig leaf to cover the first. That is, the Department of Economic Development, formerly the province of Budget Management super Minister Ralph Fonseca, will now shift to none other than Jorge Espat. Espat, it may be recalled, is an economist by training.

The third change is designed to balance Fonseca’s portfolio by adding to his responsibility the running of Central Bank and Commercial Free Zones, formerly functions of the Prime Minister in his capacity as Minister of Finance. There is less here than meets the eye, however, as Fonseca has been looking after these operations anyway.

The final step of the shuffle involves Servulo Baeza. Baeza, a former Minister of Health who was demoted to Minister of State for Economic Development, has been moved again, this time to serve as Minister of Sate in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. This gives Deputy Prime Minster Johnny Briceno no less than two Ministers of State as Patty Arceo already holds the post for Industry.

In commenting on the cabinet changes Prime Minister Said Musa told News Five that they were designed to improve the efficiency of government operations. He explained that National Security is a very large responsibility and the removal of Immigration would allow Minister Espat to better focus on his core duties. Likewise Musa pointed out that Johnny Briceno is faced with a difficult task in Natural Resources and the Environment, as well as an increased burden of representing the Prime Minister on assignments abroad.

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