Former UDP Minister of Works and retired politician, Rene Montero is under investigation after his successor, Minister Julius Espat, through his CEO, wrote to Attorney General Magali Marin Young, the Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, and the chairman of the Integrity Commission. The new Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing is alleging that Montero and his former CEO, Errol Gentle have misused resources belonging to the Ministry of Works for Montero's private gain. Minister Espat is requesting an enquiry into the matter and to ultimately hold Montero and Gentle accountable for any wrong-doing that is discovered. The letters also said that the Ministry has evidence and sworn statements documenting alleged corruption, and that those that gave the statements are willing to testify in court.
This afternoon in a press briefing Espat elaborated on what has been unearthed and what is alleged:
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure, Development and Housing
"The Ministry has interviewed and secured sworn statements from multiple workers directly involved confirming that Minister Montero used heavy equipment, personnel, and fuel from the ministry to develop his private farms over some three and a half years at significant expense to the public. The abuse was flagrant and facilitated by public officers of the Ministry Of Works at the highest level as a form of ministerial entitlement. As bad as the conduct of Minister Montero appears, Minister Montero could not have engaged in this prolonged abuse of public resources without the assistance and connivance of his Chief Executive Officer Errol Gentle."
"It is indeed remarkable that not a single public officer came forward to report the wrongdoing over the years it persisted. That failure itself signals the acceptance of the public service of a culture of corruption which has taken root within our system, and which must be uprooted and discarded."
"You mentioned the wanton and prolonged abuse of public resources for the private gain of Minister Montero, we've talked about the work done on the farm, we've talked about the road, is there anything that we're missing at this point?"
Hon. Julius Espat
"Well, to give you an example we've just this week alone we have just retrieved two graders, one that was located in the Ladyville area and another one that we found were it was at the Spanish Lookout area and so it is a grave concern for us that we have not gotten to the bottom of everything as yet, and it is scary to be able to not know what government equipment the people own. And, so we're going through that whole analysis and investigation, and as we dig deeper we find more things because people come forward and explain to us. So, it's not over as yet as to what the quantum will be in losses when it pertains to equipment."
"We have gotten eight declarations up until now, but please understand, the Ministry Of Works at the time had over 320 employees, so we only have 8 statements of 320, the further we dig, I can guarantee you we will get more but it is a scary situation. I am disappointed that this is happening or that this has happened in our country and it has to stop. We have to stop it. It's a collaborative effort It is all of us, it is the people's resources that we are speaking of. It is not a dollar, it is not $10, it is not $1000.00. It is not $100,000.00. We are speaking of millions and millions of dollars that are lost."
Montero Jr. Refutes Corruption Claims
And while those are very serious allegations of misconduct against Montero, the former minister's attorney and son, Rene Montero Jr. says that all allegations against his client are completely false.
We contacted him via phone today to get a comment on the totality of the allegations made by the current Minister of Infrastructure, Development, and Housing.
Rene Montero Jr., Attorney-at-law
"Our client categorically denies use of any equipment to develop the one farm that he owns. I know last year some time in November right before elections there was this media house from this so-called pastor who have made several remarks on his morning show that equipment were being used and he also showed pictures of equipment found on a certain farm. I can categorically state that none of those equipment were ever found on the former minister's farm. Now, what had happened is that the equipment were in the are in the Young Gial, Yalbac area, but they were opening roads for farmers. As simple as that. Now to try and say that those farms belong to the minister is not only wrong, but defamatory. When those statements were made, our client came to us to write a demand for an apology. But in the end for whatever he reason and I believe for political reasons we believe it was what they called "Silly Season" and that is will evaporate. It hasn't. But his position is that all allegations made against him is entirely false, it's untrue and it's simply a witch hunt and a vindictive nature of this PUP government. It is quite disturbing that this current government, instead of acting on their plan they try to distract the public with these baseless allegations. I have read and I have seen that they have several statements from certain persons and I don't think its coincidental that these would come to light, simply for the main reason that the minister himself and the now prime minister went on record saying that they will fire any persons who are affiliated with the UDP and so now it doesn't surprise us that now these persons come now and they need to provide for their families so they are singing for their supper. They are singing the tune of the PUP whatever they are singing and I don't blame them. All the allegations against the former minister is completely false."
Referring to retrenchment, what Briceno actually said was that they'd have to take a hard look at the Public service and that quote: "The hangers-on that the UDP has brought in that I am told that many of them just collect a salary and do nothing - obviously we can't afford that." End quote.
Montero's attorney also told us that the Former Minister of Works will be filing claims against those responsible for spreading and repeating false allegations against him.
Hon. Espat Says to Montero, See You In court
We've already told you about the statement from Rene Montero Sr. attorney, but he also put out a statement on Facebook saying all the claims are quote, "gross negligence by this vindictive government of Belize who continue to bear false allegations against meâ€¦"
As you hear earlier, his attorneys say they will file suit - and today Julius Espat said that's his right:...
"I am quoting here: it is gross negligence by the vindictive government of Belize who continue to bear false allegations against me. I have instructed my attorney to proceed with court action against those who continue to make false accusations against me. I have serve my constituency with honor and integrity since 2008 and I will defend my name to the fullest. I have fully retired from politics and will continue to enjoy my retirement with my family and close friends."
Hon. Julius Espat, Minister of Infrastructure, Development and Housing
"I applaud him for be able to put thoughts on paper. Let's deal with it. Let's go to the courts. The courts will reveal everything, so as I said I have only done my job and my job is backed up by declarations and evidence. So I applaud him in trying to defend himself. That's his right under the democracy which we operate."