On Thursday the Minister of Immigration and Nationality Senator Godwin Hulse stepped forward with measures to stop the rot at a Ministry that has been the subject of numerous scandals, none more damaging than the recent furor over Citizen Kim Won-Hong originally of South Korea. Noting that Belize has for the most part failed to learn the lessons of past scandals and even now is putting in measures that really should have been in place long ago, the Minister nonetheless insisted that the new measures will restore dignity and integrity to the process, adding that the “game has ended” for those who treat the national birthright as a commodity to sell. As part of a wholesale reorganization of the Department with the assistance of the Public Service Ministry, two new committees, one for scrutinizing nationality applications and the other for vetting visas, involving the senior officials in the Ministry and Department as well as proposed membership from the Council of Churches, Chamber of Commerce and Industry and National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB). First, he outlines how the new Nationality Scrutinizing Committee will work.
Hon. Godwin Hulse- Minister of Immigration
“As it stands right now in the key criteria, the person must be over eighteen, must be of sound mind, and the person must have resided here…ordinarily resided here for a period of five years. We will flesh that out and strengthen those criteria. In the final law, set up as an instituted framework of the form, which would have the Committee as the first here, and the worry will be such that the Minister may not grant citizenship to any person without a pile of everything of all the documents by the Committee. That, ladies and gentlemen, intends to curtail or control my power which I have absolutely no difficulty with. And hopefully, in the future curtails the power of successive Ministers. In other words, the application will go to the Committee to vet, then to the minister with a recommendation for him to determine if he accepts the recommendation or not. However, one may suggest that the Committee could be by-passed. If that were done, and the Minister signs, then this action will be ultra vires”.
The Minister also spoke of amendments to the Passport and Nationality Acts to stiffen penalties for those who violate the new provisions.
Hon. Godwin Hulse
“The Nationality Act, which governs all of this, as it stands right now, citizenship, is issued pursuant to Section 16 of that Act. But we will amend the Section in now, to ensure that he person does not get the Certificate until he is entered in the Register, and takes and signs the Oath. Only after when that process is completed, she or he gets the Certificate. Section 17.1 will be amended to ensure that the Minister can only sign the Certificate after the Oath has been taken. While the new form serves to eliminate, since the court administered by the Commissioner of the Supreme Court will be printed on that, we will strengthen the Act. We will strengthen the Act by increasing penalties from what it is of $500 to $50,000 and imprisonment for a period not less than five years, put up to a maximum of fifty years both fined and confined for any violation of the proposed of this Act. Next hearing that we want with the Passport Act, as you know, when we struck the Department, we do tremendous works with passports. We set up out after the so called scandal with William Dyck to create a new application form; and, we are going to increase the penalty for violations that these provisions from the current prescribed $500, again, to $50,000 and to improve investment for a period not less than five years to a period of fifteen years”.
Finally, the Minister closed with a passionate plea for all to work together to ensure the system works better for all, citing a lack of public spirit in reports of numerous allegations without evidence being put forward.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow shortly endorsed the provisions as having the approval of the Government and expressed his hope that this represents a turning point.
Much of Thursday’s question and answer following the initial statements of Minister Hulse and Prime Minister Barrow was given over to excoriation of former Minister of State Elvin Penner – by his own party. The Prime Minister told our Louis Wade that he has come to regret authorizing Mr Penner, based on legal advice he received as head of Cabinet, to sign certificates after the junior Minister complained of having no authority to work in the Ministry, despite the law not being explicitly on his side.
Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow- Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
“I thought about it and I sought advice as to whether as a Deputy Minister, whether as a Minister of State, he could be given such authority, and legal advice that this should certainly be in order as it turned out as it was on that basis that in fact that I agreed and the Cabinet supported me that he should be given the power to sign Nationality Certificates. It is a decision that I have come to room, it is a decision that I will regret until the end of my days, but that is how that took place so”.
However, the Prime Minister continued to insist that Elvin Penner had earned the right to approach the citizens of Cayo Northeast and beg their forgiveness, and it was they who have been given the power to absolve or condemn him.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow:
“The same democracy that allowed Penner to contest and win an election in Cayo Northeast, allows him, “I am in full atonement mode, I would ask that you that you believe me when I say that I am sorry, and I would ask that you give me a second chance. What the United Democratic Party is saying is that Penner has that right to ask the people to forgive him; and the people then, have a decision to make, whether they believe him that he is truly sorry, and even if they do, they won’t forgive him”.
There will be no new Minister of State appointed, the P.M. declared.