Posted: Wednesday, July 15, 2020. 3:51 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: The Chairman of the Senate Special Select Committee, Aldo Salazar, has moved the motion to adopt its report on the Immigration Department, 2011-2013, paving the way for it to be widely published.
Senators were allowed to comment directly on the findings of the Committee for the first time, ending a years-long effective “gag order” beyond the public airing of testimony.
Senator for non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) Osmany Salas, who missed being appointed to the committee by a few months after the Government cleared his appointment as Senator, commended those who participated and calling his reading of the report “riveting”, particularly in the matter of recommendations moving forward.
Senator Salas also pointed out that there has to be something done about those accused of committing perjury before the Committee, which is a criminal proceeding.
Opposition Senator Michel Chebat clarified that the People’s United Party (PUP) does support the complete report, and quoted from it at length concerning various lapses and breaches originally highlighted by Auditor General Dorothy Bradley, and elaborated on during the course of the 13 months of hearings.
Senator Chebat favorably commended the work of former Directors of Immigration Maria Marin and Diana Locke, who implemented reforms and refused interference from their superiors.
Nonetheless, the rot at the Department below senior level led to multiple and open irregularities in the granting and approval of visas, passports and nationality and permanent residence, with a total of 146 such findings documented, least of all a catalyst for the report, the South Korean businessman Won Hong Kim, who managed to get Belizean nationality without ever setting foot in the country thanks to the work of then-minister of State Elvin Penner and the thousands of others who got nationalities in record time before the 2012 general elections.
Chebat also called out the interventions of certain Government Ministers, 72 of which were documented, for persons to get Immigration services – with familiar names such as Edmond Castro, Manuel Heredia, Jr., and Penner dotting that list.
In response to Senator Macario Coy wondering why a big deal was made of Ministers making recommendations for people whom they didn’t know, Senator Mark Lizarraga swore that those he assisted, for example, were well-known to him and that there is no chance those applications were complete.
Lizarraga revealed that a “culture of intimidation, a culture of bullying” existed in the Department that still led some witnesses – Marin and Barton Middleton – to tell the committee they were afraid for their lives while giving testimony.
The culture of corruption so ably described by former Finance Officer Teresita Castellanos was hidden in plain sight, said Lizarraga: “Everybody knew about it and nobody did anything about it until this report.”
It is now up to the Police Department and prosecutors to take the next steps forward, as well as continuing reforms.
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