Inefficient, Ineffective, Inept- Senate Inquiry- Nine months and counting

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Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2017. 4:26 p.m. CST.

By Delroy Cuthkelvin: Let me preface my argument by acknowledging that I am indeed a supporter of the incumbent party in government and do not pretend to be free of any political bias. Notwithstanding, there should be some degree of reasoning in all of us. And, by any fairly objective account, this Senate Inquiry into immigration matters raised by the Auditor General’s Report, ranks pretty poorly in the categories of efficiency and effectiveness.

For the record, this Senate Inquiry commenced NINE (9) months ago on October 12, 2016. The first public hearing took place on November, 9, 2016, the first person to testify being the Auditor General herself who, from the outset, had to apologize to former House Speaker Hon Michael Peyrefitte for asserting that he was not authorized to sign a particular application form (3B) as a recommender. The fact is that Hon Peyrefitte did have such authority as a member of the National Assembly, as clearly stated in Section 56 (2) of the Belize Constitution.

Then, in her subsequent appearance on December 7, 2016, the Auditor General had to withdraw one of the strongest claims in her report, that recommendations for visas by Ministers of Government were somehow “illegal”. Responding to Senator Aldo Salazar, the Auditor General conceded, in her own words, “So the term ‘illegal’, I would refrain from using it, even though it is in the report.”

So, from the start, the very basis for the inquiry, the Auditor General’s Report, proved to be significantly flawed. Be that as it may, some useful revelations have come out of the hearings, primarily underscoring the fact that gaping loop-holes in the processes and glaring indiscretions by public officers at Immigration have undermined the integrity of the department and the documents it produces.

What quickly became just as obvious, though, was the fact that this particular Senate Inquiry is, for some senators, an exercise in political grandstanding and theatrics rather than an objective, clinical operation aimed at uncovering and uprooting this so-called “culture of corruption” at Immigration.

Certain senators were invariably ill-prepared and emotive in their line of questioning, too often opinionating more than interrogating. The result is that they wasted significant time posing and re-posing the same questions, or attempting to make the same point over and over again. Then, having achieved virtually nothing in an entire hearing, they insisted on calling back the witness for a further session on another date. Evidently, for example, there was no good reason to have called back Cabinet Secretary Carlos Perdomo for a second time, when no senator posed any new question to which he did not already respond on the first occasion.

Two weeks ago, Hon Anthony Martinez took off the entire day from attending his constituents in Port Loyola (Belize City) in order to attend the hearings in Belmopan, only to be told the Senate Special Select Committee was not yet prepared for him. The following week, he did testify in the morning; but this time, it was NEMO Minister Hon Edmond Castro, in the midst of the Hurricane/Rainy Season, who wasted that entire morning waiting in vain to testify, having hurried back from Toledo where he had gone to engage in an on-the-ground impact and state-of-readiness assessment in the aftermath of a flooding event. When Hon Castro was eventually called to testify in the afternoon, the questioning lasted less than an hour, after which he was advised that he could be called back at a future date for further questioning.

Just this Wednesday, Hon Manuel Heredia, a man well known for his punctuality, flew in early from San Pedro on the island of Ambergris Caye to testify at 10:00 AM, and had to wait until 11:00 AM for certain senators to arrive.

Responding to claims from certain quarters that the financial cost of the Senate Hearings is nearing a Million Dollars, one Senator publicly responded that so far it is costing us ONLY “ half of five hundred thousand ”.

I guess we can easily throw away Quarter Million Dollars at a time when the nation’s economy is just clawing its way out of a mild recession; when we have over a Billion Dollars to repay in that Superbond created by the last PUP administration after a myriad of costly, failed, publicly-financed private projects; when we have to find hundreds of millions more in compensation for the re-acquisition of national assets and public utilities sold off or given away to foreigners by that same PUP administration; when roads and culverts are being washed away, and homes washed over by severe flooding; when this government has just completed building over 300 houses, replacing over 200 roofs and repairing over 2,000 homes for victims of Hurricane Earl which struck less than a year ago.

No, we don’t believe a Senate Inquiry is in itself a complete waste of time; but the way this one has been progressing, it certainly does not represent the most exemplary exercise in efficiency or cost- effectiveness. We conclude with the measured and, in our view, immensely benign and generous words of the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Right Hon Dean Barrow, in an interview with the news media a month and a half ago on June 1, 2017:

“I don’t know how much farther things can usefully go but I certainly don‘t share the view that I‘ve heard expressed in certain quarters that it‘s all been a monumental waste of time – not at all… I would say, though, that I would hope that while we don‘t want to stint on the effort to thoroughly ventilate the issue, there is a cost to what is going on. There is a cost both financially and, of course, of the workload for the national assembly staff. So I would hope that there would be reasonableness on the part of the committee to do whatever more is necessary, but don‘t go beyond that, because the law of diminishing returns will clearly set in, and I think it could become counterproductive. We have not reached that point…at this juncture; but I just ask that they exercise some caution, some prudence – some reasonableness in determining how much farther they want to go.”

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

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