Two weeks ago, reports surfaced that three highly-ranked officers in the Ministry of Natural Resources had received their walking papers, allegedly for reasons of corruption. The three were very close to Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega – in fact, two of them, the Registrar of Lands and the Deputy Commissioner of Lands, are his nephews. The other, National Estate Officer, Darlene Padron, was also close to Vega. Since the reports surfaced, we have been trying to get comment and clarification from Commissioner of Lands, Wilbert Vallejos. But he had apparently gone deep undercover. Well today he surfaced, and we were there. It was an eye-opening and frank interview, and Vallejos confirmed that corruption is rampant at the Ministry of rampant – so rampant in fact, that only God could get rid of it.
Wilbert Vallejos, Commissioner of Lands
“The National Estate Officer, Miss Darlene Padron, has been transferred to a different ministry—a ministry where she can be of much more assistance—taking into consideration that she has a degree in sustainable development so she has been transferred to the Ministry of Fisheries and Sustainable Development. The other officer who has gone through a change is the deputy commissioner who has tendered his resignation as deputy commissioner of lands and service.”
“Sir, we understand, well we know that all three officers were very close to Minister of Natural Resources, Gaspar Vega. We understand also that the instructions to move them came from no less than the Prime Minister. Could you verify if that is true or not? And if so, could you tell us if there are allegations of some sort of corruption? It is strange that three senior officers, those officers in particular, were just arbitrarily moved.”
“Well I don’t know if they were moved as a consequence of corruption. If we wanted to attempt to do that, we will have to move probably the entire department. But certainly, like I said, they were moved strategically. There have been a certain request…I have never gotten any directive from the Prime Minister. I know that Miss Darlene Patron has been transferred as a consequence of analyzing and looking at the situation where she can be of better help and assistance in another ministry and giving someone else an opportunity who has a more in depth knowledge on land administration. Mister Hernandez felt that maybe it was time for him to move up or go out and he resigned. He submitted his resignation.”
“Sir are you fatigued by the various acts of…the Prime Minister said that ministry is a hotbed of corruption. Are you aware of this and are you fatigued by it?”
“I am aware of it. I was aware of it from the very first day I joined the department; that was sixteen years ago. And I joined the public officers, the people who want to see acts of corruption minimized. I don’t know that we have the power to eliminate corruption entirely. I believe only god can do that. But yes, I’m fatigued with what I see and not necessarily coming from this level or that level. Corruption exists in many forms and manners. When a file goes missing, when a false report is missing, when a picture of another parcel is provided so much that there are sent to the people who are making the decisions and as a consequence of that we do not make the best decision possible because we sit in an office and we depend on the information that is provided to us. So to answer your question, yes, it fatigues, me, it fatigues anybody—anybody who wants to see a system move forward in the best way possible.”
There were allegations that three persons had been moved, but Vallejos says it is only two – Deputy Commissioner of Lands Barony Hernandez and Darlene Padron. As regards his Deputy Commissioner, Vallejos told us that he had heard that Hernandez, the nephew of Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega, had been asked to resign, but all he knows is that he got the resignation, and accepted it.