Two more ministers before Senate Committee

By Benjamin Flowers
Staff Reporter

Two more seated Cabinet ministers testified before the Senate Special Select Committee this week: Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation, Manuel Heredia Jr., and Minister of Works, Rene Montero.

The ministers took the witness stand on Wednesday to answer for recommendations they made for nationality, which the Auditor General flagged as questionable in her Special Audit Report of the Immigration and Nationality Department.

The Committee questioned Montero about a letter dated January 9, 2012, which he wrote to the Director of Immigration, Ruth Meighan, where he requested that she “facilitate me with the following (recommendations) nationality for the ceremonies to be held on the 13th, January 2012.”
In his defense, Montero said that he was merely asking for assistance with the processing, and was not giving any kind of directive with regard to the seven applications cited in his letter to Meighan.
“At no time did I infer that they shouldn’t follow the vetting process or that they should proceed with incomplete applications, at no time did I infer that or alluded to that, it was simply a request to facilitate,” Montero said.

Montero also admitted to making recommendations for members of the Harmouche family, whom he claimed he did not know, did not have any prior dealings with, and were not even members of his constituency.
He explained that he did not have the names he was making the recommendations for, only the specific application numbers for the applicants, provided to his office by the Immigration and Nationality Department. He stated that he made no effort to contact any of the relevant authorities to clarify if the numbers belonged to anyone from his constituency.

Montero also told the Senators that he only made one recommendation, and asserted that the two other recommendations they were questioning him about may have been sent by someone within his Santa Elena office.
Heredia answered questions on his role in taking visa stickers from Belmopan to San Pedro, which the Auditor General had deemed inappropriate.
Heredia explained that he only delivered sealed manilla envelopes, which he never opened, which he had been doing since 1994, when he was Mayor of San Pedro. He explained that he acted as a courier up until Godwin Hulse became the Minister of Immigration and asked him to stop.

The senate also questioned Heredia about hundreds of recommendations he made for members of the Harmouche family to get Visas. He admitted that he made recommendations and inquiries into the status of the file processing, but never requested to see any of the files personally.

Heredia and Montero are the second pair of seated ministers to appear before the committee, after Ministers Anthony Martinez and Edmond Castro appeared last week.

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