Visa Vetting Committee under scrutiny

By Alexis R. Milan
Staff Reporter

The one-month old visa vetting committee has already come under fire, as two prominent organizations have taken issue with the fact that one of the committee’s members was named in the leaked Auditor General’s Preliminary report.

Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s President Arturo Vasquez told The Reporter that the appointment of the committee simply adds to the layer of bureaucracy and does not solve the core problem, which led to the scandal in the first place.

Vasquez added that another concern was that some of the same people who were named in the report as being present throughout all the irregularities in the department, including Immigration Director Maria Marin, were still in positions of authority and named to the committee.
Attorney General Wilfred Elrington, who said Thursday that he was unaware that the committee had been established, but he added that in principle, if anyone in high office was under any kind of scrutiny, the honourable thing to do would be to resign.

“Generally speaking, anyone appointed to high office in any sector should be above reproach,” he said.
Citizens Organized for Liberty Through Action’s President Giovanni Bracket said the government should be cautious about such appointments in light of the Auditor General’s preliminary report of the Immigration Department.
Bracket said a thorough investigation should be conducted and added there are still more questions than answers at this point.

Marin’s name surfaced numerous times in the AG’s preliminary report.
The report accused the director of failing to cooperate with the investigation.
Yhe report said: “Minister Elvin Penner, Director of Immigration and Nationality, Mrs Maria Marin … may have violated Section 22 of the Belize Nationality Act Chapter 161 of the Laws of Belize, revised edition 2000.”
The Visa Vetting Committee was established under the Immigration Amendment Bill was introduced in December but the appointments were made official on July 18th when it was Gazetted.

The Committee also includes the CEO for the Ministry of Immigration Candelaria Saldivar-Morter as chairman, CEO for the Ministry of Human Development ,Judith Alpuche, and CEO for the Ministry of National Security, George Lovell.
In December, when the Bill was introduced, the then proposed Visa Vetting Committee faced much scrutiny.

At the time People’s United party area representative for Orange Walk Central Juan “Johnny” Briceño said:
“It is important to point out that the members of the visa vetting committee are all employees of the government. Now, how can we really expect these individuals to really vet very carefully the work of their own government?”
PUP Senator Lisa Shoman said that at the very least the law should have included a provision that none of the people on the Visa Vetting Committee should be able to recommend anybody for visas.

According to the Statutory Instrument, which details the appointments to the body, “the Visa Vetting Committee shall establish its procedures in meetings.”

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