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NICH’s hundred-thousand-dollar lease turned one-dollar rental

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Posted: Friday, April 30, 2021. 7:35 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The stench of alleged corruption in the past UDP administration reached even to the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH), whose board agreed to pay off a defaulted mortgage loan from Social Security Board (SSB) on behalf of a prominent UDP supporter and later rented the premises for substantially less, according to Leader of Government Business Senator Eamon Courtenay during Wednesday’s Budget Debate.

The decision was taken during a NICH board meeting, supported by then Minister of Education and Culture, now Leader of the Opposition Patrick Faber, according to Courtenay.

The lease was 30 years and records of payment of property tax and mortgage loan repayments to the Social Security Board made on behalf of a third party Shalini and Mirna Manzanares for a total of $102,590.98 exist in NICH’s files, according to an audit by the firm Baker Tilly Hulse as quoted by Courtenay.

“Though it was evident that the payout of the loan was duly approved on the condition that NICH would be ultimately be made beneficiary to the property through inheritance, the finance department does not have on file any agreement or documentation to substantiate this arrangement or to substantiate NICH’s future right, if any, to the said property. Additionally, in discussing the matter with finance, it was further highlighted that though the expenditure had been capitalized and carried as an asset of NICH, there is no supporting documentation under department’s file of the said treatment.” the document reads.

To cap it off, Courtenay said, the property in question was later rented for a single Belize dollar per year.

It is another example of the previous Government’s alleged cavalier outlook on national finances that has forced its successor to institute austerity and budget cuts and other measures.

NICH has let go many staffers but incumbent President Sapna Budhrani remains in her post.

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