Passport case exposes malfunctioning system

If there is any one thing that the “Citizen Kim” passport scandal has done, it has re-emphasized the extent to which Belize’s oversight mechanisms are indeed malfunctioning.
Since last September, We, the Belizean people, have watched in real time the true manipulative powers of the One-Party Government. We’ve watched it skilfully impede any genuine investigations into the crime.
It’s amazing. There were at least three (four if you count the Auditor General’s investigation) simultaneous investigations into the matter.
However, despite the media’s consistent attempts to get the results of these investigations, including the supposed FIU examination of Penner’s finances, it still remains a mystery if there ever truly was an investigation.
And while, the internal administrative investigation has put Immigration Department employees under scrutiny, it has left Penner in the “untouchable” chair.
Then there is the police investigation that only looked at how files happened to end up in attorney Arthur Saldivar’s hands, totally ignoring the Belizean people’s call for a true investigation into Penner’s actions directly.
The Writ of Mandamus
The latter investigation (or lack thereof) is, however, the most telling and, at the same time, the most concerning. With the opposition having exhausted most other options, they filed for a writ of mandaumus against the Commissioner of Police, Allen Whylie, asking the court to order the police to conclude their investigation into Penner’s actions.
During the court proceedings leading up to the Chief Justice’s decision to grant the writ of mandamus, an affidavit from the Commissioner confirmed what Belizeans have heard and felt all along: there was never any intent to investigate the Penner.
The memo shared between the Director of Public Prosecution and the National Crimes Investigation Branch, which became a pivotal feature in the case, added even more empirical evidence to that fact.
As the memo revealed, the investigating officer, Assistant Superintendent Julio Valdez wrote: “after the documents were examined, it was observed that several nationalities were approved by Immigration to individuals without meeting the criteria for approval, yet they were processed and approved.”
Valdez went on to state: “After follow-up was done on this and questions asked about these discrepancies, this line of investigation did not continue, due to instructions; no other follow-[up] was made. It remained as is.”
Beyond Penner & Kim
We are proud of the judiciary to allow true democracy to prevail in ordering the writ of mandamus on Whylie. Let that investigation into Penner’s actions indeed continue.
However, it must be noted that Valdez’s memo alludes to an even bigger issue: the investigation was ordered to a halt after he started asking questions about the “several nationalities” that were approved by immigration without the proper “criteria for approval” being met?
The million-dollar questions, then, are these: who ordered the investigation stopped, and how many more Penner-like players are involved in this underground passport business? Again, like we’ve already intuitively sensed, this matter clearly goes beyond Penner and Won Hong Kim.
The Malfunctioning (rubber-stamp) system
Knowing that this matter may very well go beyond the Penner-Kim issue, and knowing that the Chief Justice could have only ordered the conclusion of the investigation, but couldn’t dictate how that investigation should be done, it then raises the question as to how seriously will the Police Department take this matter. Maybe they’d do barely enough to avoid a contempt of court.
This brings the malfunctioning system into even brighter light. This issue is an Executive Branch problem, which someone or a group of individuals in the same Executive Branch of government seemingly don’t want aired out.
Let’s be real: someone had already pulled the pre-writ-of-mandamus brakes on the police department. Not knowing who that person (or group) is exactly means that that entity can continue to apply pressure on Whylie to tip-toe around this matter.
Let us assume, here, that Whylie resigns as the Vision Inspired by the People suggests. What will happen? Someone else will take over his position, and fall victim to the very same pressures.
Here’s a question: to whom can the ComPol—whoever he may be— go to seek refuge from the political pressures that we all believe exists?
His Chief Executive Officer—like all other CEOs in this country’s public sector—is politically appointed; and his Minister—like most other ministers of government—is a politician of the same One-Party Government that created the problem in the first place.
The National Security and Immigration Committee
Enter the National Security and Immigration Committee, the Standing Committee in the National Assembly that is to be the Legislative Branch’s overseer of all things pertaining to national security and immigration matters.
The Standing Orders states that this Standing Committee is responsible for “all matters assigned under the Constitution to the Minister responsible for National Security and Immigration”.
Put another way, Minister of National Security John Saldivar and Minister of Immigration Godwin Hulse—and his ex-deputy minister, Penner—on paper, should have been answerable to this committee.
According to the Standing Orders, “The Standing Committees…shall also have the power to oversee the … administration and policy of government departments and their associated public bodies, falling within the subjects assigned to the respective Standing Committees.”
The orders go on to state: “In exercise of this power, the Standing Committee may … send for persons, papers and records and specialists advisers, where necessary, to elucidate matters of complexity with the Committee’s terms of reference.”
Regarding ministers, the orders say: “Where a Minister of Government is requested to attend the Committee he shall comply with such request unless prevented from doing so on good and reasonable grounds, in which case he shall arrange for his Chief Executive Officer or other senior public officer to attend on his behalf.”
These Committees are charged generally with matters referred to them from the House of Representatives: “All proposed legislation, messages, petitions, reports, motions and other matters…shall be referred by the House to such Committee for examination, consideration and report to the House…”
However, the Standing Orders provide for these committees to meet independently:
“The Standing Committee…shall have the power, … to hold meetings on their own initiative without having the matter referred to them by the House, and for that purpose, a meeting shall be duly called if a requisition under the hand of the Chairman, or, if the Chairman is unable for any reason to do so, under the hands of any two members of the Committee, is sent to the other members of the Committee.”
As was definitively confirmed when Public Accounts Committee Chairman Julius Espat first sought to revive PAC in 2012, such committee meetings are public. The Orders state: “Members of the public shall be allowed sufficient opportunity to present their views at the meeting of all Standing Committees.”
In November 2012, the legal advisor to the Minister of Finance, Mr. Gian Ghandi, explained that the concept of “the public” being given “sufficient opportunity” to present views should be interpreted in accordance with May’s Parliamentary Practice—an authoritative parliamentary book that serves as a guide to countries that operate on the principles of parliamentary democracy, based on the United Kingdom’s Westminster System—which states that “All Standing Committee meetings are public all the time.”
Therefore, we are saying that this matter could have been dealt with PUBLICLY had the National Security and Immigration Committee convened, and there would have been no need for the formation of Special Select Committee or even a Senate Inquiry, if this committee had been able to function properly.
Source of the Malfunction
Where’s the source of the malfunction? The problem is somewhat two-fold: the one-party government that gives majority rule of Standing Committees to the party with the most seats (in this case the United Democratic Party), and the lack of public pressure on the members of the National Security and Immigration Committee to earn their pay as a committee members.
According to the National Assembly’s website, Hon. Michael Finnegan is the chairman of the National Security and Immigration Committee.
Other members are Anthony “Boots” Martinez, Pablo Marin, Mark King, and the PUP’s Florencio Marin Jr., and Ramiro Ramirez. As you can see the malfunction is in the fact that four out of the six members of this committee are of the current UDP government. But how is that any different from the government’s majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives? The House still meets even though the opposition is outnumbered don’t they?
Nevertheless, it is this composition that has led PUP Deputy Leader Julius Espat to label these committees as mere “rubber stamps”. Espat contends that the structure of these committees would be much more effective if the social partners are added to its composition, as a way to remove the control of the committee’s functions out of any one political party’s hands.
Senator Henry Gordon, a co-author of the booklet Fixing the System through People Participation (2008), in discussing the “Citizen Kim” scandal, told Reporter that had the system been working, there would have been no need for the writ of mandamus, as Finnegan (or two other members in Finnegan’s absence) could have launched their own investigation into the matter.
Coming back to Whylie
It’s too late now to say what the National Security and Immigration Committee could have done prior to the granting of the writ of mandamus; however, in light of the fact that there’s a common sense of cynicism regarding the investigation into the “Citizen Kim” issue, the purpose of this article is to show that there is “officially” a body of people to whom Commissioner of Police Whylie and his minister are accountable.
Why is that not being done? Well it comes down to us as people doesn’t it?
Finnegan, “Boots” Martinez, Pablo Marin, King, Florencio Marin Jr., and Ramirez all have a job to do on behalf of the Belizean people.
They’re the ones that came knocking at the doors of the Belizean people saying they’re ready and willing to work on the people’s behalf—not on behalf of their party.
They’re getting paid tax payers’ dollars to sit on these committees to do little or nothing, and we—as a people—seem to have accepted this: that it is a lamentable “rubber stamp” system that we could absolutely nothing about. Seriously?
Should Whylie’s investigation prove fruitless, it’s these men of the people who should show their true colors. And if Whylie is to resign for non-performance according to his oath of office, then what should become of his overseers? Shouldn’t all six of these men be held accountable as well by the people of Belize?
More importantly, it is imperative that we, as a people, move pass this “Rubber-Stamp” defeatist culture, and amend these committees’ modus operandi to the benefit of the people of Belize and not to the benefit of the political parties.

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