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.