Minister Samuels resigns/Cabinet shifts again

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 31            August 15, 2002

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A recent investigation ordered by Prime Minister Said Musa into irregularities in the processing and issuance of Belizean nationality and passports at the Department of Immigration has led to a number of results. It should be noted that the Economic Citizenship Program was officially terminated on January 15th, 2002, yet several nationality applicants have received their passports, allegedly without residing in Belize for the specified period of time.

    On Monday, July 29th, Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs Alan Usher concluded his report and submitted his findings. Last Wednesday, August 7th, Prime Minister Musa disclosed those findings and made recommendations in a live broadcast. Excerpts of his speech are contained in the following paragraphs.

    PM Musa stated "The report recommended further police investigations. A full and comprehensive investigation is now underway." The PM continued that since the ministry responsible for immigration is also responsible for the police, it could give the impression that the police would not be able to do justice to the situation. So, to remove any potential or perceived conflict of interest, Minister of Home Affairs Maxwell Samuels resigned his office, effective that day. On the other hand, later in his speech, the PM stated he turned over "The Usher Report" and other relevant documentation to the Commissioner of Police who assigned Senior Superintendent Bernard Lino and Assistant Superintendent Justo Augustine to expedite a thorough investigation, "no matter where such investigation may lead." This would still appear to be a conflict of interest as the police are the agency responsible for checking into the backgrounds and determining the security clearance of nationality applicants. To top things off, without determining whether there was any wrongdoing on the part of Maxwell Samuels, the PM, in another Cabinet re-shuffling, appointed him Minister of Communications, Transport and Public Utilities.

    These two decisions by the PM led government policy watchdogs, the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR) and the Association of National Development Agencies (ANDA) to both call on the government for a more independent commission of inquiry into the matter. After the speech, the PM responded to a similar request stating, "We have moved beyond that- commissions of inquiry do not engage under the law in criminal investigations." He stated that his low-level police investigation had already gone further than a high-level commission of inquiry would or could. The PM expressed confidence in the fair investigation.

    Moving on with his speech, PM Musa stated, "There are various policies that will be critical for ensuring the proper functioning of the Department of Immigration and for restoring the confidence and trust of the Belizean people in this department that is so vital to the national interest. They are: 1. Colonel Peter Parchue, a 20-year veteran of the Belize Defense Force, has been appointed to the post of Director of Immigration. His appointment reflects not only his qualifications but also emerging security concerns inherent to the issues of immigration and migration. Furthermore, immediate steps have been taken to ensure the integrity of the nationality and passport applications such as: requiring applicants to submit applications in person, subjecting all such applications to legal vetting, and eliminating, once and for all, the role of immigration consultants and agents. 2. The Solicitor General has been directed to carry out a comprehensive revision of the Belizean Nationality Act with the clear objective of removing all opportunities and potential for fraud or abuse that may exist. 3. Cabinet will be considering proposals and recommendations for an overall Immigration Policy, the foundation of which should include protecting and developing the interests of all Belizeans. 4. The Usher Report, together with other relevant documents, has been turned over to the Commissioner of Police who has assigned Senior Superintendent Bernard Lino and Assistant Superintendent Justo Augustine to expedite a thorough investigation, no matter where such investigation may lead. I wish to assure the Belizean people that the police investigation into this matter will proceed free and clear of any political interference whatsoever."

    At the end of his speech, the Prime Minister "decided to make the following Cabinet changes: As Prime Minister, the only portfolio I intend to hold is the Ministry of Finance. This will allow me more scope and time to focus on the effective coordination and direction of government with particular emphasis on the overall macro-economic strategy for sustainable growth and financial management of the economy.

    The Deputy Prime Minister will assume the Ministry of Trade, along with his existing portfolios of Natural Resources, Environment and Industry.

    I propose to appoint the Honorable Vildo Marin as Minister of Works and Economic Development.

    The Ministry of Budget Management will assume responsibility for the Ministry of Home Affairs.

    The Department of Immigration will be transferred to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

    The former Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration will now be responsible for the Ministry of Communications, Transport and Public Utilities.

    And, the Minister of Tourism and Culture will assume the portfolio of Information and Broadcasting."

    The Prime Minister ended his speech stating, "In these times of rapid change and complex challenges, managing the business of government requires constant refinement and adjustment. The announcements I make today, I believe, will build on the many successes achieved during the past four years, as we continue to deepen our democracy and work to improve the quality of life for the Belizean people."
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