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May 13, 2009

P.M.: public officers are responsible for corruption at Lands Dept.

Allegations of questionable deals at the Lands Department, including the leasing out of portions of the Caribbean Sea and numerous other cases, have come under the microscope. And while the list is growing lengthier, P.M. Barrow stood by his Minister of Lands, Gaspar Vega this morning. The P.M. maintains that his government is committed to fixing the problem, but he is not holding Vega responsible for the crooked deals. Instead, he puts the blame squarely on public officers.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“The complaints, I believe that you have to pay to get your documents processed in a timely fashion. I believe that there is merit to those complaints. We have been trying by way of spending money to give the Ministry and the Department additional personnel, bringing back people like Kenneth Fairweather, Mrs. Petzold who were known when they were there as regular public officers to be completely above board, to operate on the basis of rocklike integrity, we brought them back. We’re trying in every which way to at least get a handle on the corruption that’s alleged to be so widespread in that Department. I would be a hypocrite; I would be dishonest if I suggested that I think that we have the battle won. Clearly it’s an ongoing fight and clearly we have not been anywhere near as successful as we’d like to be. All I can tell you is that we will redouble our efforts and we will continue to make every attempt to try and have a system at the Lands Department that will both see people getting their documents processed in a reasonable time frame and that can also damp down or tamp down the corruption that the public says is rampant there.”

Marion Ali
Will we see people getting fired?

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Well, there have already been cases taken to the Public Services Commission. Remember that you’re talking about public officers and there’s no way that you can just fire them. You have to make a case, you have to go to the Public Services Commission even; if you want somebody to be transferred you have to do that. That’s been part of the problem that’s led to this ingrained culture that people complain about. There have been one or two cases not nearly enough, I concede that squarely.”

Marion Ali
“But there will be many people out there who will argue that you must hold the man at the helm responsible as well.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“Well I can’t – that’s I suppose a point of view and ultimately in a large philosophical sense, it is true. But we all know the odds against which the Minister, any Minister who heads that Ministry has to struggle, the odds that need to be overcome. I will make the comparison with the Customs Department. Ultimately, that’s under the Ministry of Finance. All sorts of things are said. I suppose I have to be held responsible but it is simply impossible to run the Department myself, to get in there personally and to stamp out whatever corruption there might be in the Department. The Minister of Lands is, in my view, above board. There is no suggestion that he is taking part in any kind of wholesale bargain-basement alienation of national lands for a price, for a personal profit and so, as far as I’m concerned, that’s half the battle won.”

Barrow calls on the public to come forward and report cases of bribery at the Department or where public officers solicit money to speed up the process. Barrow says that public officers who are accused of corruption will be immediately placed on interdiction and taken before the Public Service Commission. Channel Five on Tuesday night offered a twenty thousand dollar reward for the conviction of illegal lands deals, and by this morning numerous suspect cases had landed at our newsroom.

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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