Last week we showed you an interview with attorney for Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), Kareem Musa, detailing his frustration with the effort to privately prosecute Elvin Penner for breaches of the Passport and Nationality Acts committed while he was Minister of State, specifically with respect to Citizen Kim Won-Hong.
Today, the organization met with the press in Belize City to say that they have not given up. COLA President Giovanni Brackett compares their efforts here to previous usages of novel legislation to facilitate change, and sounds a warning for the Government at large.
“When you look at the whole scenario, we can’t help up at link the flock that they have given us the quote and quote of referendum. Da weh the Coalition to Save the National Heritage tried to use that avenue, they failed. They say they gave us a recall mechanism. When we tried that avenue, it failed. Now, we are trying a private prosecution recommended by the Prime Minister, and if this fails, it would have been because the government has failed; it will because we live in a failed system, because we live with a government that is conducive to failure. We are hoping, despite the challenges that we are facing, we want to assure the public that COLA isn’t giving up and that we are taking every measure that we can to bring justice”.
Brackett also reported that they have secured financial resources for a small reward, of $500, to persons who come forward with material evidence that will help the case.
Musa reported that Ombudsman Lionel Arzu has affirmed the decision of Auditor General Dorothy Bradley not to release the Auditor General’s report on the audit of the Immigration Department publicly until it is laid before the National Assembly.
But according to Musa, the public servants misunderstand what they really want.
“When it comes to court matters, one adjournment is not acceptable or reasonable; it is not practical. So far, we only got one adjournment. I don’t see why Mr. Penner should be given special treatment. I would be asking for an adjournment; I have no problem saying that right now…because these different bodies are telling us wait this thing until the National Assembly; you are going to get the report; just wait for it to be tabled. So, I won’t just allow this matter to be dismissed. I will have to wait for an adjournment, now the ombudsman and the Auditor General are saying that it will come, but just give it some time. So, hopefully, the magistrate would understand that as well, realize that if it were to be dismissed, there is no opportunity to bring it back because the statute has passed. So, certainly, come the 29th May, I will be asking for an adjournment and I have all the records to show that we have been seeking the case file. When you go to the Magistrate’s Court, that is the most common phrase you hear every single day: “the police is not in possession of the case file”. So, why would it be any different for the private prosecution of Elvin Penner? Is he more special than anybody else?”
Musa went on to say that he had “lost faith” in the Commissioner of Police who has said nothing to them since twice being written to to turn over what he has on Penner, other than that he has handed over the file to DPP Cheryl-Lynn Vidal. In actuality, they have been passing the file back and forth.
But how does this affect what happens when Penner returns to court on May 29? Prosecution attorney Musa explains that he will employ legal strategy to ensure that Penner faces justice.
Prosecution Attorney Kareem Musa: “It is sad for me to report today that we have received a response from the Auditor General which I find to be totally unsatisfactory, in that she is saying that she will not provide the documents, the material evidence that she has gathered because of two things. Firstly, she refers to our Auditor General’s report which she says that under the constitution, she cannot deliver to us until she tables that in the National Assembly. Categorically clear, at no point, we asked the Auditor General for her report. So, she is now mixing up two things. What we asked for in our letter was for material evidence gathered, something separate and apart from her report”.
Legal avenues to force compliance with the Freedom of Information Act are not out of the picture and Musa told us that there are other avenues they seek as they attempt to prove their allegations against Penner.
We brought up the issue of the report with Minister in charge of Immigration Senator Godwin Hulse later in the day and he says that no one has yet to actually look at the document, but he dropped hints as to what it says.
“That’s a preliminary report. I have not seen the final report yet, which has been submitted to the Prime Minister and not to the Cabinet yet. Of course, the final report will come to the cabinet before it comes to the House. Then, it will go to the House and then it will go to the Senate and it will go to the House again”.
Reporter: “Are you aware of new disclosures or new information that may be in there?”
Senator Godwin Hulse: “No, no. The only ones we know were when we did our own investigation. I am sure (because she has communicated with our main issue that there will be some administrative highlights that she brings. Now that we understand”.
Indeed, the Ombudsman appears to be the only person in Belize so far who has seen the report, as he wrote in his letter that he examined on April 30th, some of the exempted documents to which COLA is requesting access.