The Ministry of Home Affairs is making a timely move to secure Belizean heritage. This it will seek to do through a new machine-readable passport issuance system, which got support yesterday in the sum of one million nine hundred and seventy thousand dollars, from the United States government. Minister of Home Affairs, Ralph Fonseca, says the system is to try and combat illegal immigration.

MINISTER RALPH FONSECA:"It's a well known fact that drug traffickers, money launderers, international terrorists and terrorism make increasing use of forged travel documents. We must therefore be vigilant at all times because these criminals transcend borders and they have innovative techniques. We have to plug any kind of holes that may exist in order to continue to fight this sort of evil. Even though the war in Iraq is virtually over, we're going to have international terrorism remain and may even intensify in the short run. We must therefore be vigilant at all times and devise improved and innovative techniques to plug the loopholes in our system of issuing traveling documents. There have been several cases where Belizean passports and permanent resident cards have been forged by sophisticated criminals; in fact some of these cases are in front of our courts today. The present project will modernize and vastly improve the system of issuing passports by our Immigrat!
ion Department and would be compatible with acceptable international standards. It will serve as a powerful weapon in the ongoing fight against illegal, illicit immigration and international terrorism."

U.S. Ambassador to Belize, Russel Freeman, says the new Belizean passport will be as technologically advanced as any other passport in Central America and others worldwide.

AMBASSADOR RUSSEL FREEMAN:"Twenty first century technology will add many features to these two documents most notably a coded machine readable zone of information on each passport. That zone will speed Belizeans through Immigration checkpoints at airports and other ports of entry around the world. The added security features of the new passport will help restore integrity to the Belizean passport which suffered internationally following repeated scandals involving the sale of citizenship and passports. New accountability will be introduced into the passport issuance process that will help to prevent a reoccurrence of such scandal. Events of past years have rendered the Belizean passport vulnerable to all sorts of abuses. This machine readable passport programme is a critical move and a huge step forward; again not only for people of Belize but for all of Belize neighbours in the fight for a safe and secure future. Alongside the positive steps taken in recent months by !
the Ministry of Home Affairs under the leadership of the Honourable Ralph Fonseca and the Belize Department of Immigration under Director of Immigration Colonel Peter Parchue we are confident that the joint venture will restore international faith in the Belizean passports, enable Belizeans to travel more easily and help to protect us all from the threats from beyond our borders."