Coast Guard Defends Use of Vessels to Transport Defense Ministerís Teams

Another UDP Minister who's earned the ire of the Americans is Defense Minister John Saldivar for his use of donated Coast Guard vessels for his sports teams.

Saldivar finally broke the silence by taking to Facebook yesterday, saying quote, "There is absolutely no misuse involved in using public resources to help a basketball team, and I absolutely prepared to go down believing that! It is acceptable to use BTL and BTB funds to sponsor a Machel Montano concert. How can it be a misuse of public resources to assist a basketball team with transportation to San Pedro?" End quote.

And for good measure, the Ministry of Defense sent out a press release today saying quote, "The Ministry makes it clear that the deployment of armed forces assets are the responsibility of the commanders of the armed forces who are completely aware of the purpose of which they are to be used." End quote.

In the press release, the Ministry makes the point that the donated assets, whose primary use is for deterring of illegal activities, can be directed for legitimate use elsewhere by the commanders of the Belize Coast Guard and the Belize Defense Force.

For good measure, the statement ends, quote, "The Ministry of Defence has always been an avid supporter of the sporting community as it sees healthy competitive sports as a way to enhance leadership and to promote unity amongst the youth and sporting enthusiasts' countrywide. As such both the BDF and the BCG have entered teams in various sporting disciplines and have established partnerships within the sporting community of Belize." End quote.

So, if you listen to that statement, it makes it clear that the commandant of the Coast Guard gave the authority for the use of the boats to ferry Saldivar's teams. So, we went seeking answers from Admiral John Borland, the commandant of the Belize Coast Guard, this evening. Here's our frank discussion with him about the use of these assets to help the team owned by his boss, the Defense Minister:

Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard
"Assets as you said have been used, for the same purpose as you describe. But I wouldn't it's exactly a wonton waste. For example, in the past when these assets were used to support the Bandits Basketball team, we have been reimburse the fuel for conducting these operations and is the case with the last evolution that was conducted I think last week where we have been reimbursed for the fuel."

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Now, how many times are you able to say this transportation efforts have taken place?"

Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard
"I wouldn't be able to exactly pinpoint how many times, but we know that the basketball has been going on for a couple years, perhaps 2-3 years that the Bandits have been involved and you're right we have not only support the Bandits, we've supported other teams in basketball, in other sports. We've supported many other entities in our partnership with the community at large, where we support NGOs, we support schools, we support other government departments and these requests come to the Coast Guard and by and large the main concern is always fuel and we often ask for fuel to be provided or to be reimbursed whenever these requests are carried out."

Reporter
"And in this particular situation with the Bandits team sir, did Minister Saldivar request that favor or did he give the order for you to do that favor?"

Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard
"It's not an order. It's perhaps like you say requesting a favor."

Reporter
"He did so, Minister Saldivar requested for the vessels to be use to transfer..."

Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard
"Yes, in this case we are talking about his team. He is the one who ask me if it was within our purview to do so and I said it's a part of the enduring partnership that we have, not only with the Bandits, but with other sporting organizations, schools, NGOs, Government Departments. We didn't see it as anything illegal or illicit as we know the vessels were donated along the lines of supporting the counter-narcotics to counter drug program and as long as we weren't using them for anything illegal or illicit and it wasn't taking away from supporting Coast Guard operations. Bear in mind these vessels were not deployed, when not in the operational they sat back here going through admin functions, repairs or being prepared to conduct subsequent operations."

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Do you consider though that in this particular case it is not just any other team. This is the Belmopan Bandits owned by John Saldivar who is also the minister in charge of Coast Guard and so it gives a perception that preferential access that other would not enjoy was afforded here in this instance."

Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard
"But you are speaking to this particular case. We haven't look at other cases where we've supported other sports organizations or other elements of the community."

Daniel Ortiz, 7News
"Sources close to 7News say that the US Embassy has complain of this particular usage in which they see it as improper. Have you received as the commander of the Coast Guard such reports?"

Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard
"No I have not and I have requested such report from the US and up to date they have not provided me with such. But I go back to what I said earlier, US Government through their organs, principal organs of SouthCom and the main group here in Belize, along with the Embassy, donate these assets to the government and lay down the rules as to what they should be and should not be used for. I go back to saying we were not using them for anything illegal or illicit and if the US Government has an issue with us using them for the purpose of supporting the community, in this case, a sporting organization, then let them say so and if they say so, we shall discontinue it."

The Coast Guard Commandant asserted that contrary to reports in one newspaper, the Coast Guard do not get donations from the US Embassy for fuel use for these donated vessels.

Channel 7