An investigation is underway at the Belize Tourism Board where close to four hundred thousand dollars in pension funds were reportedly used to pay salaries to employees, including upper management between July and November of 2020.  The new board, News Five has been told, has been questioning a number of persons after a former employee brought concerns about the fund to their attention.  As you may recall, almost at the very start of the pandemic, the B.T.B. cut its staff by fifty percent, issuing severance packages to a number of employees. Those who were retained were reportedly given a twenty-five percent salary cut.  However, reports are that that did not happen. Instead, a unilateral decision was made by the former Chair of the Board, who sat as a trustee on the Pension Fund, to use the monies to offset the salary cut.   Tourism Minister Anthony Mahler confirmed what he says is a “shocking” discovery.

Anthony Mahler, Minister of Tourism

“It’s not solely Mrs. Bevans, it’s a review of the trustees for the pension funds for the staff. We are looking at the way they used it, some excess funds that had accrued over time and they used it for certain things that we don’t think is appropriate.”

Duane Moody

“Could you explain that? Who had the authority over that fund?”

Anthony Mahler

“They are trustees. A trust is governed by its regulations and stuff like that. We believe that there was a mistake in how they used the excess funds that had accrued in the trust for the regular staff for paying salaries over time during the COVID period. And I think that is against the trust.”

Duane Moody

“How much? What’s the amount that was used sir?”

Anthony Mahler

“Probably close to maybe three hundred and fifty, four hundred thousand dollars, somewhere around there.”

Duane Moody

“…that was for pension and was used to pay people’s salaries when there were some people that were left off and all of that?”

Anthony Mahler

“As I understand it, the board in July had approved that there was a twenty or twenty-five percent pay cut for the staff at the B.T.B. and to offset that, they used the excess for the pension funds to pay themselves. As I understand it too, the former chairman was a trustee on the pension and he approved it.”

Duane Moody

“What can be done because I know that an investigation is underway?”

Anthony Mahler

“Well a review is being done and I am waiting legal advice.”

Tourism Director & Former B.T.B. Chair Under Investigation

Among those whose actions are under review is former Chairman Einer Gomez and Tourism Director Karen Bevans, who back in April of 2019, signed a five-year contract with the previous government to the tune of one point two million dollars.  Minister Anthony Mahler says that the probe should not be perceived as a witch-hunt on Bevans.

Duane Moody

“Could this be grounds for the termination of not only Miss Bevans, but anybody else who sat as trustee?”

Anthony Mahler, Minister of Tourism

“Like I said, I will wait for legal advice. This is not a witch-hunt. This was brought to our attention by former pensioners. So people who were a part of the pension who were terminated over the last few months or last year or so, they brought it to our attention.”

Channel 5