Every end of the year, Ministers, Area Representatives, Councillors, Mayors and every other elected official, is required by law to submit a disclosure of their assets to the Integrity Commission as a means of check and balance, that ensures that elected officials are not enriching themselves unlawfully off of the people’s taxes.
The Integrity Commission Act was enacted under the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life in 1994,and was further reformed in 2008- as promised in the UDP’s manifesto. But the broken Integrity Commission has not been able to serve its purpose properly.
In his New Year’s speech, the Prime Minister promised that in 2014 he would “remedy omissions such as the failure to appoint the integrity commission.” We are now in the last weeks of 2014 and up to date there are no records of elected officials submitting their declaration of assets.
The Vision Inspired by the People third party says there is a consequence to this, and so on Tuesday a handful of their supporters picketed around the National Assembly Building, and the Prime Minister’s office at around noon, raising posters that read, “Pay the Fine, integrity commission or no integrity commission”.
“For twenty years, the Prevention of Corruption in Public Life Act was enacted in 1994. For twenty years every elected person, Senator, Speaker of the house, is supposed to declare. We’re tired of telling them to declare and they don’t want to declare. So that’s what we’re saying.
We’re telling them now, don’t bother to declare, pay the fine. This is the fine for one term. We’re saying, pay the fine. It’s a hundred dollars a day for the first year. If you’re late the scond year it’s two hundred. If you’re late the third year it’s three, and if you’re late the forth year it’s four. Actually it’s two hundred and sixty something thousand dollars that every Councilor owes the treasury.
So, we’re saying, you know what, don’t bother with the Integrity Commission, just pay the fine. Pay the fine, every single one of you that has served, that swore an oath to obey the Constitutiion and the law. This is the law, and the law says ‘Fine or Confine.’ So you either pay or you go to jail.”
Indeed most elected officials have never submitted their declaration of assets, but this does not hold true for all elected officials. In fact, according to Bobby Lopez, Public Relations Officer for the VIP, only one elected official has ever submitted his declaration.
“There is one young man, one Councilor in San Pedro, and I want to tell Wally Nunez, I vote in San Pedro, I run in San Pedro for the VIP. I will vote for you Wally, because he’s the one Town Councilor, and he went even further. He went to the local media and said, ‘Here is my declaration,’ and he submitted it.
You see every year, the office is right up there. Right up there ios the Integrity Commission office. We don’t have a Commission but there’s a Secretariat. The secretariat said every year she mails out packets to evrey person that is supposed to submit, and they refuse to send it back. So there’s no excuse.
It’s like if you live in a village and there is no Police station, does that mean that you can break the law. No! So don’t give me the lame excuse that the Integrity Commission is not there.
I’ve had Senators tell me that, ‘Why submit if the Integrity Commission is not there.” No, the law remains. Whether [the Commission] is there of not, you’re supposed to disclose. If you don’t disclose, Pay the fine!”
Also joining the protest was leader of the Belize People’s Front (BPF) Nancy Marin.
We spoke to Ms Marin about rumours that she was slated to run in Cayo North for the upcoming bi-elections, under the Belize Unity Alliance, the umbrella organization for the three major third party organizations.
“That indeed was on of the options. I was one of the first candidates that the indepandant movement wanted to be on the ballot, but I don’t believe that I should change from one costituency to the next, just because of having a candiate there.
We need to be prepared. I haven’t worked in Cayo North. I’ve worked in San Ignacio generally. I haven’t touched Bullet Tree. so I don’t think that people in Bullet Tree know me enough, for me to throw my hat in at this point. I’ve been working in Cayo North-East and cayo Central more than I have in the North.
Of course, as of now, I will start spreading myself out, working in all the constituencies, and having my people in all the constituencies, just to be prepared for 2017.”
With that, the third parties are out, and the race in Cayo North will only be between Richard Harrison for the PUP and Omar Figueroa for the UDP. In a Facebook post earlier Tuesday evening, Nancy Marin expressed her support for Figueroa saying that, quote, “I know both Candidates very well, and they are both good people…But a choice must be made and since people want to know where my support will go…well, It will go to Omar! I have served with him on the Boards of various NGO and I know his heart is in the right place and he is running for the right reasons.”
The bi-elections for Cayo North are to be held in January 25th; four weeks from now.