By Marion Ali
The Preliminary Auditor General’s report on the Penner-Passport Scandal reveals that the AG’s office met resistance from key government officials from the onset of the investigation.
The report, which the activist group Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) shared with the media this week, accused Maria Marin, Director of Immigration, of blatant disrespect for the AG’s office and the law.
It further accuses Marin of consistently finding ways to evade requests for pertinent records, sometimes even withholding the files and saying they were with the Minister.
The investigations began on October 29th and Auditor General Dorothy Bradley conducted a compliance audit and recorded statements from senior officers and officials within the Visa, Passport and Nationality departments.
The AG also recorded the challenges her team encountered in this process.
She also highlighted major concerns, one of which was the managing of the electronic processing of passports at the Immigration Department. The AG described this as a system where “controls are seriously lacking”.
As far as Minister Penner is concerned, the Auditor General observed that he signed several nationality certificates that were not recorded on the nationality register – Form D, and that the dates in the nationality register did not match those that Penner put on the certificates.
Based on irregularities surrounding the passport of Peter Pang (Yiu-Pang Chen), the AG found that Penner, Pang and Marin “may have violated section 22 of the Belizean Nationality Act.”
In at least one instance, the images on the forms were not original photos of the person but merely copies of existing pictures from other documents.
As in the previous revelations that COLA exposed, the report cites four other instances where similar and related irregularities emerged. In all of the five cases scrutinized, the individuals never set foot in Belize prior to acquiring citizenship and their pictures and fingerprints were absent from their applications, yet Penner vouched that he knew them.
In one instance, the investigation revealed that the officer who dealt with the one of the applications accepted it “even though it showed that something was wrong with it in the system.”
The officer questioned did explain, however, that there could have been legitimate reasons for this.
On the passport application for Simon Troung, the data entry officer and the print operator did not sign the application form under the section labelled “For official use only”.
Further to this, the investigation showed that even the civilian recommenders for Troung committed a prosecutable act when they signed his application as knowing him for longer than the period within which he was actually in the country.
Regarding the Won Hong Kim passport that was issued despite flagrant inadequacies, the report observed that while three of the officers who processed his passport were suspended, the print officer whose duty it is to verify the data on the system was never penalized.
In an interview with the officer in charge of the Nationality section, Gordon Wade, about the processes that are carried out despite the blatant irregularities, including incomplete forms, copies of existing pictures, inconsistent or no signatures present, he said that this is a practice of all ministers to bring in applications for individuals.
“All ministers would do this and return with the documentation most of the time,” Wade said, adding that it wasn’t unusual for any minister to bring in incomplete applications for processing on the basis that they would return with the missing documents.
But a crucial eye-opener that Wade admitted was that “ministers are still bringing applications even after what happened in September 2013.”
Lastly, the report ends with an interview with Wade’s assistant, Ady Pacheco, who said that she accepted the incomplete Kim Wong Hong application from Penner because he was the Minister. He promised to return with the necessary documents.
She explained she also felt intimidated by him and because her boss was aware of the application.
She added that Penner “was always in the office for extended periods of time.”