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#484434 - 01/29/14 03:05 AM Cabinet Thunderclap!: BAA Board Fired & More
Marty Online   happy

Castro Stripped, Penner Stripped

For weeks the pressure has been mounting on the Belize Airport Authority and Minister of State in the Ministry of Transport, Edmund Castro.

And today, that pressure finally reached Cabinet- which has acted decisively to close the stable door, even if it's long after the horses have bolted.

First off, the entire Belize Airports Authority Board chaired by Barbara Miller is being required to resign. Second, the portfolio for the Department of Civil Aviation, which has responsibility for Airports, is being removed from the Ministry of Transport and is being put under the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, with Manuel Juniour Heredia. This is the equivalent of stripping Castro of the ministry. This was confirmed in a rare Cabinet Release that came out an hour ago. Holding the official line of wrongdoing but not corruption, it says, quote, "After due consideration, including hearing from Minister Castro himself, Cabinet was of the view that while there was nothing illegal in the actions of either the BAA or the Minister, there was poor judgment leading to a perception of abuse of authority on both sides." End quote.

But the sudden awakening doesn't end there. Cabinet has also decided to deal with one aspect of the ongoing Elvin Penner embarrassment. He will be stripped of his government vehicle and the chairmanship of the house select committee on Public Utilities, Transport and Communications. And about that monthly community vote for a divisional office that Penner continues to get even though his office is closed? Well, Cabinet got all righteous on that one too! The release says the Prime Minister has quote, "instructed the Financial Secretary to require every Area Representative, upon pain of losing the stipend, to account for the $2,300 monthly allocation provided for constituency office rental and secretarial services."

Want more? Well, there is! You remember the Integrity Commission which government has been dragging its foot on appointing a chairman since mid-2010? Well with the wave of an executive magic wand, the new chairman will be ex-FIU Director Marilyn Williams. The opposition has been consulted, Williams has agreed and the new commission will be formally constituted at next month's sitting of the Senate. The last chairman was BQ Pitts in 2009, but, to our recall the commission was not ever properly constituted, and the post was left vacant when he became Attorney General in 2010. Largely ignored, the integrity commission's job is to investigate corrupt activities by persons in public life.

So, what's behind Cabinet's waking up like a sinner who's found religion after an unholy spree? Well best guesses are that either someone started listening to the talk shows, or a sense of political urgency is setting in because of the eddy's of discontent swirling in different areas of public life.

And to make sure more damage like the BAA doesn't unfold at other statutory boards which are often run like mini political fiefdoms, the Solicitor General and the Financial Secretary have been tasked to quote "meet with all Statutory Bodies to review operational protocols and advise on proper administration", or in other words, ignore the minister when he asks for handouts for his voters.

And while Cabinet has finally moved to stop the hemorrhaging at the Belize Airports Authority - that story still has some legs, and later we'll present the interview we did yesterday with the now former board member Lindsey Garbutt.

Channel 7

#484435 - 01/29/14 03:05 AM Re: Cabinet Thunderclap!: BAA Board Fired & More [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

BAA Board Takes Down Kenworth, Before Getting Taken Out

Today in cabinet, it was like thunder struck. The entire board of the Belize airports Authority was required to resign immediately. This in the wake of revelations that cheques had been issued to its Minister Of State Edmund Castro and his various political interests. But, there's more. During the course of this newscast we've confirmed that in its last act, the Board reportedly fired Airports Authority General Manager Kenworth Tillett. We have been reliably informed of this though there are varying reports.

Of course, the board did not know that would be its last act when it moved to fire Tillett this morning. And yesterday board member Lindsey Garbutt - unaware of that fate that awaited him today - came forward to bite the bullet, take the heat for the Board's dubious decisions. First off, he explained those Castro Cheques...

Jules Vasquez
"How did you feel when the Prime Minister said that if he were member of the board when these wrong and distasteful checks were being issued, how did that make you feel?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"People who question our judgment have all right to do have a legitimate reason to do so. And that is why we have to carefully look at our processes."

Jules Vasquez
"Do you agree with the prime minister that decision you all made to issue cheques specifically those to Mr Castro that it was wrong to have done so?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"I believed, or I believe that it is necessary to provide an explanation as to why those cheques was issued by the board, what was the thought behind the issuing of those cheques."

"One of those cheques for 900 dollars was issued as a per diem to him to attend a civil aviation function as a part of his being a minister of state in that ministry to Salvador."

"Another cheque for 4 thousand dollars was given to Minister Castro to assist with expenses on the death of his mother."

"I certainly felt as a board member and I guess we felt as a board, that this was an opportunity to assist someone that has assisted scores of people in the same type of a funeral expenses."

Jules Vasquez
"So then the cheque for his undertaker does relate to his mother?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA

Jules Vasquez
"And then additionally you all gave him four thousand dollars for the various expenses he'd incur in a large funeral."

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"Yes, we felt that mobilizing his people to come and pay respect.."

Jules Vasquez
"Do you think it was an error to have made such a discretionary call?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"If I was to vote on the same issue again I would probably vote differently, and I think the entire board would do it differently - having the wisdom of hindsight."

Jules Vasquez
"Is this something he requested or is it something you all volunteered?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"We all agreed to assist. I really cannot give the details of whether the request came from him."

Jules Vasquez
"And then the other five thousand dollars?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"The five thousand dollars was given to the minister because he explained that he was supporting several football teams in his constituency and he wanted to buy jerseys for them. He felt that given the cash he could go and negotiate enough to be able to purchase the jerseys for them."

Jules Vasquez
"Is it normal that we would send persons to the board or the BAA CEO for assistance for his constituents?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"Dozens of people come in every week to request assistance. Some of them may come on a recommendation by a minister; some of them just come in on their own. We never looked at it as assisting a minister. We looked at it as assisting different communities that needed assistance. So there were a lot of names that appear on those cheques of people who came in, they brought in their receipt for their schools whether they did it for their kids or their kids did it themselves and where possible we provided support."

Jules Vasquez
"However, is that within the ambit of the Belize Airport Authority, in terms of, these are public funds. I don't think you would be so generous making so many donations if it were your money to make so many donations when that really is not the role of the BAA. The role of the BAA is to provide for the safe and efficient functioning of various aerodromes in Belize."

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"But above and beyond those services where the board see that it can have a social conscience and provide social assistance - it can do so as long as it doesn't affect the carrying out of its mission."

The budget for donations was 23 thousand dollars, and we'd say about half of that went to Castro for as you saw his funeral assistance. But the Board also assisted with celebrations, specifically September celebrations. Garbutt explained some Bowen and Bowen bills:..

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"In the case of Bowen and Bowen, we provided - if you notice and if my memory serves me right those cheques were made prior to Independence Day and prior to Christmas in which we provided assistance to the different constituencies - in terms of providing drinks for events and activities relating to Christmas celebration and independence Day that are held in those communities."

Jules Vasquez
"Were they specifically for Belize Rural North?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"They were for communities that the Belize Airport Authority decided they would try to sponsor and assist."

Jules Vasquez
"Yeah, but this isn't spontaneous. Someone must make a request."

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"A request was made and if my memory serves me right they may have been. You see you respond to people when they come and ask you and you do your best, so those 20 something communities may have been the focus of those donations."

Jules Vasquez
"You mean the 27 villages in the Belize Rural North?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA

Jules Vasquez
"Okay and Caribbean Chicken?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"What that was for?"

Jules Vasquez
"Well it's the one for Caribbean Chicken, I have it here, it's like $3,200. That's a quiet significant amount of chicken if you are not in the restaurant business."

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"Obviously, but again, if you are assisting different communities - stretched out among those communities, it might not be as much. But like I say I do not - I am trying to give you as accurate information as I can."

"These things occurred over a period of time, when you consider one by one on an individual basis - certainly looking at it collectively now, as a board we understand what the implication could be."

But one thing they don't understand is the purchase of a laptop computer for over four thousand dollars. Garbutt explained that the board will look into it:..

Jules Vasquez
"What laptop would cost $4,725.00 from Cellular Plus which as far as I know sell cellular phones?"

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"That matter Jules is under investigation by the board of the Belize Airport Authority. We expect that before the end of this week we would have completed that investigation. Like you I have bought computers and I certainly feel that that is much higher than any normal computer I know."

Jules Vasquez
"However, I know a payment as large as that the board would have to authorize."

Lindsey Garbutt, Director - BAA
"Well the board made a decision to replace a computer. A board generally sets broad policies and makes decisions that are carried out by the staff. That is why I am saying we have to do an investigation to find out exactly what transpired and what resulted in the BAA paying that amount of money for a computer."

Again, Garbutt conducted that interview yesterday before he knew that he and the entire board would be required to resign.

And while Cellular Plus is not a known retail outlet for computers we have confirmed that the company does special order computers, and had done so for the BAA during the last PUP term.

Channel 7


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