Commentary: Selling passports, citizenships and visas is a problem for all Belizeans at home and abroad
By Wellington C. Ramos
When the news was made public that the Honourable Alvin Penner, the elected representative for Cayo Northeast, was removed for granting citizenship status to a Taiwanese citizen who is currently in prison in Taiwan, most Belizean citizens were shocked and outraged. Under both the Peopleís United Party (PUP) and the United Democratic Party (UDP) we have had scandals with passports, citizenships and visas that are ongoing. Both political parties have pledged to end these problems during their political campaigns but to no avail.
Under Belizeís laws, a person becomes a citizen of Belize if he or she was born in Belize, is the child, grandchild and offspring of a Belizean citizen, married to a Belizean citizen, lived in Belize continuously for over three years as a permanent resident and applied for economic citizenship and was granted a naturalization certificate. The granting of economic citizenships is where most of the money is made. However, this citizenship was intended to bring investors into our country to provide jobs for our people or to set up businesses in Belize to boost our economy.
I am almost certain that if we were to examine the records in Belize, most of the people who have been granted economic citizenships in the past, under both the PUP and UDP administrations, have not established industries in our country or provided jobs for our people. These people are acquiring Belizean citizenships to avoid paying taxes in their countries of birth or for other reasons. I have heard stories that some of the people who have been granted Belizean citizenships know nothing about our country and have never been there, which makes no sense.
There are people found travelling in this world with Belizean citizenships, passports, driverís licences and other documents that we donít know. This was reported by Sen. John Kerry, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and now the US Secretary of State, in a foreign relations hearing held after 9/11 in 2002. It happened that two of those individuals trying to gain entry into the United States were identified as terrorists on the US watch list.
I hope that this current experience with Representative Alvin Penner will lead to the formation of an independent commission to look into the immigration problems our country is facing. Each political party in Belize and other stakeholders should be allowed to have a representative on this commission. In the end, they will be able to make recommendations to the government as to what safeguards we can put in our laws to end all these irregularities from occurring again. If the government does nothing about this scandal, most Belizeans, including myself, will continue to believe that the loopholes will remain in place because it is benefitting some people in government.
There are some members of the opposition party who are trying to use this issue to their political benefit but they are also guilty of the same problems like the current UDP government. There was a time when they had about 300 Belizean passports missing from the Immigration Department and nothing came out of the scandal. The selling of citizenships, passports and visas is a serious crime and should carry lengthy prison time if one should be found guilty of committing these crimes. I am in support of referring this case to the commissioner of police and the director of public prosecutions for further investigations because, from my experience as a former Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) police officer, crimes were committed.
No person in their right mind will go to lengths to obtain any document for a person in prison, when in all cases a police record is one of the documents a person must submit in Belize to obtain a passport and especially a naturalization certificate. If one is going to make it his or her business for an individual, common sense would make one believe that he or she was doing it to gain something in return. Only an investigation will be able to tell us why all this happened.
The civil servants who were suspended will say that they acted under the instructions given to them by their superior officers in the immigration department. Once they say that, then that person or those persons will have to be held accountable for their actions. Their attorneys will subpoena records to prove that their clients acted in good faith based on the instructions they were given by their superiors.
In fact, if I was the prime minister of Belize, I would authorize the Commissioner of Police to commence an investigation into this whole matter immediately. Why? Because, as the prime minister, this act on the part of this representative is disrespectful to all the citizens of Belize including himself. Honourable Alvin Penner must not only resign but he should also be investigated by the police. We that possess Belizean citizenships that live in the United States are currently not given all of those privileges despite the fact that we were born in Belize.
The wait for a passport in New York City and other cities in the United States is about three months or more. I believe that once a criminal investigation starts, Penner will have no other option but to resign. Also, we must now consider new legislation to deal with representatives who are under criminal investigation to censure or expel them from the House of Representatives and Senate for their criminal conduct.
The more we allow people to give away our citizenships, the less respect people in the world will have for us. Let us show the world that this type of behaviour will not be condoned by any person under no given circumstances by turning this investigation over to the commissioner of police and the director of public prosecutions.