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February 15, 2021

Commission of Inquiry to ‘test’ transactions for asset sales

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Posted: Monday, February 15, 2021. 6:26 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Commission of Inquiry is tentatively set for a second public hearing on February 26, 2021, with likely witnesses including the Auditor General Dorothy Bradley; the Accountant General; former CEO in the Ministry of Agriculture, now Ambassador Jose Alpuche; and representation from the Department of Transport and the Public Service to confirm the identities of vehicle purchasers.

It will also pursue a ‘sampling’ of the 112 persons who benefited from vehicle sales by the Government to test the veracity of selected transactions.

Chairman, Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck, acknowledged that head of the Vehicle Care Unit, Ruperto Vicente’s admission of “errors” in paperwork for several transactions covered in this afternoon’s testimony does not yet lead to a conclusion that this was in fact a practice of the division: “I think once we test the documentation and test the accuracy of the information in them, we’ll be able to draw conclusions…at this point in time, I think it is clear that there were errors in the documentation – even the letters signed by the Prime Minister contained those errors.” He also observed that the errors tended to repeat.

In the same vein, Marshalleck declined to draw a conclusion as to how true were the repeated recommendations of sold vehicles as “unserviceable,” when some were at least in running condition, saying, “We will leave the conclusions for the end.”

The Commission also intends to distinguish between the statements of former Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who said he was not aware of certain transactions, and Vicente, who claimed the Prime Minister was aware of all such transactions from his unit. Marshalleck said his is a fact-finding mission and it will be necessary to analyze what each man said as well as the files provided by Financial Secretary Joseph Waight.

Marshalleck reiterated the efficiency and impartiality of the Commission, saying they would be led by the evidence.

But he did concede that one of their recommendations would be to list in one place the assets of the Government and their financial value, as “these assets seem to be worth whatever these officers say they are worth, and there’s no way, no process for verifying or testing any conclusions that they draw. So, when Vicente has his conversation with the Financial Secretary and then he has his with the Prime Minister, whatever they say goes and there is nothing to measure it against.” He added that the failure to adopt the tender process would be a breach of the Finance and Audit (Reform) Act.

President of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) Luke Martinez concurred but said they needed further information to make a definite conclusion. But Chairman Marshalleck added that it will be necessary to recommend further regulations in addition to what already exists – the FARA and the Financial and Stores Orders.

Martinez told us concerning his exchange with the ex-Prime Minister about the latter’s justification for the sale of office furniture and computer equipment to Michael Peyrefitte, among others, that he would discuss it with his colleagues and reserve his views for the final report.

The Commission of Inquiry concluded its first day of business this afternoon before 3 p.m. and hosted the press as promised a few minutes later.

 

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