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Jul 28, 1998

P.U.P. leader says Commission report is raw politics

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The report was submitted on Monday to the Prime Minister, but according to the P.M.’s office copies will not be provided to the media until Wednesday afternoon. So all we have to go on is a government press release, which supposedly summarizes what the report has to say. “The report,” of course, is that made by the two-man Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged irregularities in the Economic Citizenship Programme conducted by the P.U.P. government between 1989 and 1993. If the Belize Information Service is to be believed, commissioners Harry Lui and Bill Tillett concluded that former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Said Musa, acted improperly in his handling of that program. Their major beef seems to be that Musa varied prescribed fees charged to applicants for citizenship and in some cases waived fees altogether. They also allege that Musa encouraged public officers to ignore rules and regulations and deliberately instructed them to lie. The upshot of all of this alleged skullduggery is that the treasury was deprived of seven million, five hundred thirty-five thousand, eight hundred, thirty-three dollars and thirty-eight cents; an amount that commissioners Lui and Tillett think the former minister should pay back. Now Mr. Musa, who just happens to be the leader of the party which hopes to unseat the government in elections to be held in less than a month, has his own words for the Commission of Inquiry, some of which can even be shown on family TV. News Five’s Stewart Krohn caught up with the P.U.P. leader this morning.

Said Musa, Leader, P.U.P.

“Well, it’s clearly very raw politics, crude propaganda coming as it does one month before the elections and its clearly designed this whole bogus Commission of Inquiry headed by Harry Lui. We knew from the time it was appointed that it was designed for this purpose – a political purpose. It was timed to come just before the elections. They know full well that they have absolutely no evidence of wrong doing against me but to say so is the easiest thing to do and they’ve done that and they continue to smear my good name as they’ve been doing since 1994. But the truth of the matter is that this is simply raw politics, crude propaganda designed to distract the Belizean people from the real problems that the country faces.”

Q: “Mr. Musa there seems to be two parts to this drama: one is what you allege to be the political nature of the whole inquiry process, the other is the specific allegations of wrong doing made against yourself. You’ve spoken about what you believe is the political nature of the charges, what about the charges themselves. For example how do you respond to specific statements in this press release that say you flagrantly disregarded procedure,… because of you the government lost 7.3 million dollars, charges that you may have committed a criminal offense. What is your reaction?”

Said Musa

“I think to get the complete picture of what is happening here, we need to go back to 1989 when the People’s United Party came to office. As you will know in 1985, 86, I think it was, the U.D.P. amended the constitution to allow for economic citizenship. What they did from that time until 1989 was to carry out what turned out to be a “bucket sale” of passports. Passports were being sold all over the country, all over the world. The U.D.P. government had given an exclusive contract to one, Kent Crane for Belize Orient Company to be selling thousands of passports. What we discovered when we came into office was that this thing was a complete mess and we had to clear up that mess. We did stop this “bucket sale” of passports. In fact we had to settle lawsuits, claims being made by Kent Crane’s lawyers from the United States, to the tune of 6 million Unites States dollars. All that we had to settle and as part of the settlement we had to process hundreds of pending applications that were in the pipeline. This took almost a year if not a year for us to complete.

At the end of that we decided to implement an Economic Investment Programme. The emphasis was not on the passport fee – sale of passport – the emphasis was whether the applicant was serious about investing in Belize. Now the fee that was being charged by the U.D.P. at the time when we came into office was 25,000 Belize dollars and that continued to be the fee. There were instances in which we raised it and collected more, as much as $50,000.

What the Auditory General did was to pick an arbitrary time from June of 1991 and to say from that point onwards the government should have collected $50,000 for each application and because there were instances in which only $25,000 was being collected, for argument’s sake, he’s saying that the government lost revenue. In other words he arbitrarily used an arithmetic of $50,000 per application when in fact we were using, the criterion was the investment capability of the person.”

S.K.

“This process, no doubt, was spelled out carefully in the law, I would believe.”

Said Musa

“This is the other thing. There is no prescribed fee in the law; the law does not prescribe a fee for this whole economic citizenship thing and they know this full well. So all this nonsense about irregularities and not complying with the law… Mr. Ghandi and all of them told them long ago that there has been absolutely no violation of the law because the law, as it was passed by the U.D.P., does not prescribe any fee for the economic citizenship.

Now, yes there were instances as minister waivers were given to certain applications. These were done for people who had rendered distinguished service to Belize or people who had made substantial investments in our country and were creating jobs for our people. Yes and as minister I had the power to waive and I did so “express waiver” on the file which went to the Immigration Department.

They are alleging that there were waivers that are not noted on the file, when if they were not noted on the file then there was no ministerial waiver. Every single waiver that I did was noted on the file with my signature on it and I stand by it and I stand by the fact that there was no violation of the law as far as these waivers were concerned.”

Q: “So when the report allegedly says that you deliberately encouraged public officers to ignore government’s rules and regulations and in some cases to neglect their duties and deliberately instructed public officers to lie, do you know what this is referring to?”

Said Musa

“That’s a blatant, malicious falsehood. I mean there’s no such thing. I have no idea what they’re talking about. Can you imagine Said Musa or any minister instructing public officers to lie. I mean that would have come out long ago that I even tried or attempted that. It’s absolute nonsense, man, hogwash.”

S.K.

“And finally, they are saying that you deliberately acted in contravention of the requirements of the Economic Citizenship Programme and therefore may have committed a criminal offense.”

Said Musa

“Well Stewart, if I had committed the slightest offense you know full well that they would have locked me up long ago from 1994 if not before that. Cos’ these people came out with a vengeance – to jail P.U.P. leaders and in particular Said Musa and others. So you know if there was the slightest evidence that they had that I had committed any offense, I would have been at “Hattieville Ramada” right now. The truth of the matter is that they have no evidence of wrong doing against me but they are using this thing for political purposes.

First you had the Denys Barrow/Bert Tucker commission and then you had a trained lawyer who went into this very same evidence, investigated it for the government and found nothing against me. Then they brought in this special prosecutor, Michael Bader, from Canada. He was given everything too, went through all the files, couldn’t come up with anything. Then worst that than now they decided that they gonna take the bull by the horns now. We’re gonna put Minister Hubert Elrington for him to head this public account committee and he will investigate and he will question witnesses. And they had a big charade in Belmopan calling in the very same witnesses that Harry Lui and Tillett called in, questioned them, had all the documents and they could find nothing.

So clearly these people know. They know there is no evidence of any criminal wrong doing; they know they don’t have a ghost of a change to succeed in any civil suit against me – claiming 7.5 million or any million or any dollar for that matter. But four weeks before the elections, let’s tell the people we’re going to sue him; we’re going to claim reimbursement. It sounds good. It’s all a charade man; it’s a joke.”

News Five spoke by phone this morning to Commission chairman Harry Lui, who declined to be interviewed, saying the report speaks for itself. He did, however, make himself available to government media consultant Delroy Cuthkelvin for use in a tax payer financed political advertisement.

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