Minister of Economic Development briefs the media on SIF terminations

vlcsnap-2013-09-18-08h09m03s15On Monday night, we told you that four persons from within the Social Investment Fund were fired in light of alleged corruption. The firings follow an investigation conducted by the Contractor General of the Statutory Body and investigation of the current project that is the renovation of the Dangriga Market. The former head contractor of that project, Kennard Smart accused personnel from SIF of extorting thousands of dollars from him. Those persons we are told are Mike Hernandez – Director of Public Relations; Lionel Jiminez – who worked as engineer on the market; Enrique Romero – Financial officer and Fausto Pineda, another SIF employee. Daniel Cano, the Executive Director has since resigned. Today, an official statement was released by the Board of Directors at SIF, it reads in part “In  February  of  2013,  allegations  of  corruption  were  levied  against  the  Social Investment Fund prompting the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to request  an  investigation  led  by  the  Contractor  General.  The  findings  of  the investigation  were  presented  to  the  Board  of  Directors  who  acted  swiftly  by immediately convening an emergency board meeting (Monday). After reviewing the Contractor General’s report, the board determined that four members of staff were complicit in activities which merited termination. In view of the Contractor General’s report and acting in the  best  interest  of  the  organization,  the Executive Director tendered  his resignation effective immediately.”  Well, On Tuesday Hon. Santiago Castillo, Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, was able to confirm that Cano has stepped down from the post of Executive Director.

Santiago Castillo Jr. –  Minister of Finance and Economic Development:

vlcsnap-2013-09-18-07h44m21s104A few weeks ago they were reported to the Contractor General and we took the decision to convene an emergency board meeting yesterday.  At that meeting the Board of Directors met with the Contractor General and the decision was taken to ask Mr Cano for his resignation yesterday evening, which he submitted, and to terminate the four employees in question which are: Mr Mike Hernandez; Mr Enrique Romero, the technical officer;  Fausto Pineda, technical officer; and  Mr Leonel Jimenez, the engineer. So as of  this morning 8 o’clock, those five persons are no longer employed at SIF.  There was enough evidence and proof for the Board of Directors to make a decision that was in the best interest of SIF and the Government of Belize.

As of Monday morning, the new acting director of SIF is Nelly Trench. We asked the minister to comment on the direction that SIF will be taking after this incident.

Santiago Castillo Jr. –  Minister of Finance and Economic Development:

Well clearly SIF has to revamp and hope that this is not a cancer that has embedded itself into the organization, and change policy, terms of reference, so that something like this is not repeated again.  It was done on a very small scale.  If you look at the amounts, they were very nominal, even those that Mr Smart reported, but any amount of corruption is corruption.  So the Government, Cabinet, myself took the recommendation of the Board to have a zero-nonsense policy, and eliminate it completely by dismissing all those concerned.  

The chronicles of SIF and the Dangriga Market have been making headlines for the past few weeks and today the  Minster himself, related to us the events that lead up to Cano’s resignation.

Santiago Castillo Jr. –  Minister of Finance and Economic Development:

vlcsnap-2013-09-18-09h05m57s182On May 24th last year, 2012, a contract was signed with Mr. Smart, and he was supposed to finish the market by July 2013, so, that should have been finished.

As of March of this year, Mr. Smart was seventy days delayed and agreed to this in writing…and so we gave him an extension to June 2013 when he should have finished.   We furthered that extension to October 21st, but by July 17th, Mr. Smart was a hundred and ten days delayed and by contract, the most you can be delayed is a hundred days and is automatic termination.   So, after a hundred and ten days delayed it was agreed to his contract which was officially done on September 6th.    So far, Mr. Smart has been paid a total of $600,000,  which gives us a remaining of about $780,000 to finish the market.    Unfortunately,… and I feel for the Dangriga people, we have to go back, especially based on what happened, we have to go back to tender process, put it out to bid and hopefully finish it on budget as soon as it can be.  

vlcsnap-2013-09-18-08h45m50s164vlcsnap-2013-09-18-08h46m00s1As it pertains to Lyndon Bailey and Emmy Gillharry Ramirez, Hon. Castillo said that SIF cannot do anything for them.

Santiago Castillo Jr. –  Minister of Finance and Economic Development:

Unfortunately for them, we do not have a  contract with them.  Our contract was strictly with Mr Smart of A & G Construction, and as a consequence we had no contract with them.  They were sub-contracted by Mr Smart, so that is something they are going to have to take up with Mr Smart, not with SIF.  

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