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Feb 26, 2003

U.D.P. alleges corruption in lands, education

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It did not exactly come as a surprise, but the U.D.P.’s long awaited latest charges of scandal finally arrived this afternoon in the now classic form of the press conference at the Radisson. Whether you were a believer or not, it was vintage Barrow. News 5′s Stewart Krohn reports.

Stewart Krohn, Reporting

He described it as a series of small morsels that when eaten together amounted to a hefty feed. Well, it all depends on your appetite, but for the chief chef of the United Democratic Party, today’s press conference was already a three-course meal. The starter was a fairly modest series of suspicious land transfers: the usual sale of parcels to party insiders at bargain prices.

Dean Barrow, Party Leader, U.D.P.

“The four point two acres of land have been granted to Martin Cal, who is the brother of the P.U.P. Orange Walk South candidate, Ismael Cal. Sylvia Flores, who is of course the P.U.P. candidate for the Dangriga constituency…enter Sylvia Flores as the grantee of block number 478, five acres of land situate in the Carib Reserve, Stann Creek District.”

But the biggest embarrassment was the inevitable news that a caye–supposedly sacrosanct since the Gabby Affif affair–had been purchased by none other than a P.U.P. member of the House of Representatives.

Dean Barrow

“Michael Espat and Melhem Espat jointly, Michael Espat of course being the P.U.P. candidate and current member of the House of Representatives for the Toledo Espat constituency, as the grantee of one point zero two one acres of land which is Moho Caye, ten miles northeast of Punta Gorda. The other survey plan showing the survey of Moho Caye, it is in fact the one point two one acres, apart from the sixty-six feet reserve. And Mr. Michael Espat has been granted all of Moho Caye. People know the significance of Moho Caye, especially in terms of when you draw baselines and that sort of thing and you’re measuring Belize’s territorial sea. But Moho Caye has been granted to Mr. Mike Espat for eight thousand, nine hundred and eighty-five dollars.”

While some of these land grabs, if true, are indeed worth mentioning, they are a common foible of every administration. But chef Barrow’s next course appeared to be made of more substantial stuff. For the second week in a row, he took aim at the Education Ministry, claiming that Mei Chun Lindo, the wife of University of Belize board member Bill Lindo, a Taiwanese lawyer not qualified to practice in Belize, had been hired by the same university as legal advisor for four thousand dollars a month.

Dean Barrow

“Now again ladies and gentlemen, if that is not corruption, I don’t know what is.”

Barrow’s hyperbole aside, the hiring of a board member’s spouse is something of a low calorie snack…at least compared to the next course, which was billed as the entree, dessert and after dinner brandy all in one.

The target was Education Minister Cordel Hyde’s sister, Jacinta Hyde Garnett. According to Barrow, she fronted for a phoney landscaping operation which was paid perhaps as much as one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to beautify various primary schools–but never did any work.

Dean Barrow

“This scam involved paying monies to an entity known as Green Patch Company, for services that Green Patch Company was supposedly providing to primary schools in Belize City, for services that were never ever provided.”

Barrow’s restaurant is now closed…at least until March fifth. Whether his last meal will cause the P.U.P. mild heartburn or severe dysentery will be determined by the voters. Stewart Krohn for News 5.

The denials to Barrow’s accusations came fast and furious. Sylvia Flores says the only land she owns in the Carib Reserve is five acres she inherited from her parents that has been in the family for fifty years.

As for Ian Adolphus, the P.U.P. Albert Committee has shown evidence that every lot in the subdivision was handed out to Albert residents who could not find land in the division.

Bill Lindo tells News 5 that his wife, a Belizean of Taiwanese descent, is indeed employed by U.B. on a one year contract for forty-eight thousand dollars…but the advice she gives is business advice, not legal, as he admits Mei Chun is not a member of the bar.

As for the alleged scandal in landscaping, Minister of Education Cordel Hyde told News 5 that the payments of seven thousand, five hundred dollars per month, were totally legitimate. He explained that his sister Jacinta, a well-known business manager, was treasurer of his divisional committee when that committee formed an enterprise of youths who did yard maintenance for many schools in all parts of the city. The money, said Cordel, was used to pay the labourers and maintain their equipment, and all records are available for inspection. When the ministry’s budget could no longer support the project, which lasted for about a year, the work continued to be done on an ad hoc basis.

And in late word from Mike Espat, we are informed that his family has owned the lease on Moho Caye since 1932 and merely converted it to freehold.

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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