PM appoints Commission of Inquiry for immigration scandal

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 34            September 5, 2002

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Prime Minister Said Musa has appointed an independent Commission of Inquiry based on preliminary police reports, to look into allegations of improprieties at the Department of Immigration and Nationality. Last month, nationality applications of more than 20 immigrants were questioned because of public allegations of "improprieties and irregularities" in the granting of nationality and the issuing of passports during the period January 15, 2002 to July 31st, 2002. The sale of Belize passports, through the government's Economic Citizenship Program, supposedly ended in January of this year. Reportedly, the passport holders in question appeared to have received their passports without residing in Belize for the legally required amount of time and their applications showed irregularities in the processing of their international security clearance. A thorough list of these "improprieties and irregularities" was subsequently exposed to the public by the Belize media. 

    On July 29th, 2002, the Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Alan Usher, carried out an initial investigation at the request of the PM. "The Usher Report," and other documents were then turned over to Senior Superintendent of Police Bernard Lino and Assistant Superintendent Justo Augustine for a more thorough investigation. To some, this appeared to be a conflict of interest since these particular officers are responsible for checking into backgrounds and determining the security clearance of nationality applicants. In addition, Senior Superintendent Lino was accused of signing the security clearances of some of the applicants in question.

    Following this, on August 7th, PM Musa made a public address stating that Minister of Home Affairs and Immigration Maxwell Samuels had resigned his office, effective that day, to remove any potential or perceived conflict of interest. Accordingly, the Director of Immigration was suspended for an undisclosed amount of time. The PM stated that the low-level police investigation had already gone further than a high-level commission of inquiry would or could, and that commissions of inquiry "do not engage under the law in criminal investigations." The PM expressed confidence in a fair investigation. This resulted in a public outcry supported by the Belize Chamber of Commerce and Industry and political advocacy groups such as the Association of National Development Agency, who collectively called on the Prime Minister to appoint an independent commission of inquiry.

    A government press office statement released August 29th, 2002 announced the Prime Minister's change of heart regarding the investigation as follows,  "In order to ensure the proper functioning of the Department of Immigration and Nationality, and to restore public confidence in the Department, the Prime Minister has charged the commission to conduct an impartial and independent inquiry without prejudice to the ongoing police investigation."

    The members of the Commission are: Ombudsman Paul Rodriguez as Chairman, Bishop Sylvester Romero Palma and Accountant Mark Hulse.

    In addition, those currently applying for nationality should be aware of the following. Speaking to sources at the Special Branch Unit of the Police Department in Belmopan this week, The San Pedro Sun learned that all nationality application security clearances have been put on hold, pending the possible re-instatement of a pre-existing policy. In an effort to "standardize the process," aside from the required background check, new and existing applicants may soon need to undergo a one-on-one, "police interview" in order to approve or deny their nationality. No time frame could be given as to how long the process would be put on hold or when the decision regarding interviews will be made.

    In essence, whether anyone in the Immigration and Nationality Department is found guilty of improprieties or not, once again, the innocent will pay the price for the crimes of the few.
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