Mayor admits he erred in endorsing Council’s cheques to self

By Marion Ali
Assistant Editor

What could be considered as Belize City Mayor, Bernard Wagner’s first major administrative blunder came less than one month after taking over the country’s biggest municipality, when he admittedly endorsed Council’s cheques to himself to distribute for social programs.
In televised interviews this week, Wagner explained that he endorsed two cheques to the tune of $500 to give to less fortunate city residents who had gone to him seeking help. Wagner has provided all the documentation to show how the monies were disbursed, but the unorthodox method he used to carry out the process was what drew criticism. The mayor blamed the occurrence on a communication breakdown between himself and a staff that does not share his political philosophies or mandate. In essence, that lack of support was what resulted in him not being privy to the procedures in place to deal with such matters, he indicated.

“Two cheques were issued to me; I endorsed the cheques obviously because it was issued to me. I was then given the cash, which is for the 28th of March, and I believe the 4th of April – two cheques totaling $500 to serve as a fund to assist people,” Wagner told reporters. “Clearly, the way it was perceived to have been done – I did it essentially on the fact of my good integrity – clearly that did not rub good with some people. They want more than just my integrity, they want to ensure that we have checks and balances in place so that we are kept in check and clearly, I have no issue with that. I respect that position,” he continued.

Wagner said that while the method he used was unusual, it was not a sinister move with any ulterior motives. In fact, he said that everything, from the recipients’ names, phone numbers and needs were recorded on those occasions when the cheques were endorsed and the monies were handed out. He said he forwarded the information to the Council’s finance officer and the Finance Department.

Wagner indicated that the incident should not repeat itself because the system of operations at the Council will change, since it is evident that there is “war and infighting”.

“We will change the way we operate, obviously. I was actually given the way how it was done…a bit too late. And clearly, that is an indicator again of…how our staff are operating within the scope of the Council where there is this constant grind out type of war…in between trying to work along with people who clearly do not share in your manifesto and do not share in your mandate,” the mayor said.

Some of the people who Wagner helped were city residents who supported his election to office. They showed up in numbers when they heard that he was re-establishing the weekly clinics, but that seemed to have become a challenge on its own because they came with urgent requests for which he says he needs time to address them. Coupled with this, his straightforward way of speaking may not have been well received.

“We have all these challenges with our party faithfuls. The barbarians are at the gate and they are hungry. Our party has not won for 12-15 years right and so some of my people are impatient, but we have to be real and I want to reach out to them and tell them listen…give us the first 100 days. We have some wonderful programs. So I always want to make this plea to our people and our supporters that give us an opportunity; Rome wasn’t built in one day,” Wagner said curtly.

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