By Alexis R. Milan
A recent document released by the Government of Belize to detail PetroCaribe spending has the total cost of the Asus tablets distributed to tertiary level students listed at $2 million flat. However, in February Financial Secretary Joseph Waight told The Reporter that figure was just over $1.6 million.
In the document titled “Uses of PetroCaribe funds” under the category “Purchase of Equipment” the ASUS tablets are listed at $2 million.
Waight, in the March 1st, 2015 issue of The Reporter, confirmed the exact figure to be US $826,000 or BZ $1,652,000. This represents $348,000 more than what the government reported last week.
Waight at the time also confirmed that the Ministry of Finance purchased 9,000 at about US $90 per unit, which amounts to US $810,000 or BZ $1,620,000. The Reporter also made checks with several shipping agencies within the country to determine the average cost of shipping from a port in Taiwan and we were told that shipping could range between BZ $8,000 up to $20,000 in some instances. Waight had also confirmed that freight and other transportation costs were included in that $1.6 million total.
Waight said Belize had got a great deal on the purchase and added the deal was facilitated by Ambassador for the People’s Republic of China, Benjamin Ho, who made the introduction between Belize and the Taiwan-based supplier, Asus.
The Reporter made multiple attempts this week to contact Waight for a response to explain why there are conflicting figures coming from the same Ministry, but we were unable to reach him for comment.
The discrepan has caused some to question the purchase openly in the social media and brings into focus the concerns of those who claim there is not enough oversight as it relates to the use of PetroCaribe funds.
Last week at his press conference the Prime Minister said the Auditor General was welcomed to audit PetroCaribe funds but he was not extending any specific invitation for her to do so.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow, at the time, conceded that if she were to do so she may come across some of the same problems that she has in other audits, but was adamant that she would not come across any instances of corruption.