Godwin Hulse apologizes for immigration hustle

By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor

At its hearing on Wednesday, the Senate Special Select Committee listened to a statement by Minister of Immigration, Senator Godwin Hulse, in which he apologised to Belize for the embarrassment the visa and passport hustle has caused our country over recent years.

Those embarrassments took place while former Minister of State, Elvin Penner was the junior minister, and was the one later fingered at the centre of the scheme.

Hulse, who has been the substantive minister of Immigration since 2012, explained that since the atrocities began to surface, the Department of Immigration and Nationality has undertaken a number of measures to stomp out corruption.

“We took a vigorous process to try to set in place some systems to correct these wrongs and to prevent recurrence as far as is humanly possible,” Hulse said.

Those improvements included a restructuring of the Department; new legislation which requires a scrutinising committee to vet applications before the Minister approves the person’s Belizean citizenship; an entirely new nationality certificate, which includes a picture of the person applying for citizenship scanned onto the document, finger printing imagery of the said person, the signatures of the director of immigration and nationality services and the minister of immigration, the applicant’s signature, and the signature of the commissioner of the Supreme Court who administered the oath of allegiance to that applicant.

When asked, based on his experience as the Minister of the Department for some time, why he thought people were paying handsomely otherwise to acquire Belizean citizenship, the Senator responded that he did not see why that was being done, other than for two reasons:

“There are only two reasons, to my mind, that someone pays and is involved in any corrupt activity: one is to expedite a process, and one is to circumvent a process. In the case of expediting a process for example, passports we took care of that by providing an expedited fee so you don’t have to go to any staff; in the case of nationality, we didn’t obviously because there is nothing to expedite that process beyond following the regulations. Even staying in the country once you have applied, the law is very clear; you are subject to remain in the country as long as it takes for your documentation to be processed so there is no urgency…to leave the country. So I could not see paying to expedite that process in nationalities. So clearly, it has to be the latter, which is to pay to get a process done for which you did not qualify.”

With respect to a 2014 Cabinet decision, which allows for Immigration officers to process renewal of passports for people whose files can’t find be found, Hulse said the applicant must meet certain qualifications, which include providing previous passports or original nationality certificates.  He used a scenario involving the late Lila Vernon, whose files, like many other applicants who have been in Belize for years, could not be found.

“There were many requests for persons to renew their passport but when they got to the Immigration Department, Immigration Department could not find a file. …Now deceased, a woman by the name of Lila Vernon who was known popularly as Belize Creole Gial, could not renew her passport even though she had many passports because they could not find her file. …That is why the instructions were given. And it said however obtained – it didn’t mean obtained fraudulently…however obtained simply meant whether it was machine-readable or handwritten because in the past passports were handwritten, not all were machine-readable before 2005, I think it was. …You got your first passport, you got your second passport and the Department says we can’t find your file. What were those persons supposed to do? Stay in limbo? …I proffer that if we audit those people, they still will not be able to find their file because of the archives and it would be hard to do a forensic on them, unless you want to say now that all persons who were in this country back a certain number of years but who were not born here, we will have to audit.”

Regarding the applications which had recommendations that came from ministers of government, Hulse said those recommendations were not necessary and that no one at the Department had reason to be fearful if those “recommendations” were not honoured.

“The person applies, especially in the case of Chinese.  They pay their $2,000; there are some requirements that need to be met and the director can say no – the director can say no – and I did hear on the stand where persons were talking about intimidation – does not apply to the director.  The director is appointed properly; the director cannot be removed; and if she is transferred she or he has to be given another head of department position within the structure here or sent home and paid off until retirement. So I really don’t buy that at all,” Hulse responded.

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