Three Immigration Officers namely, Senior Officer Sharon Neal and Data Entry Clerks Erwin Robinson and Omar Phillips are presently on suspension and facing possible termination, for their alleged involvement in the Kim Won-Hong passport scandal.
Director of the Immigration Department, Mrs. Maria Marin, has submitted recommendation for the officers to be expelled. Now, it’s up to the Public Service Commission to make the final determination.
A hearing before the Commission will take place where the officers will have an opportunity to state their case on why they should not be penalized further. The jury of public opinion is still out on this matter, as some argue that the officers ought not to be reprimanded, if the presumed ring leader, former Junior Minister Elvin Penner, will continue to enjoy Ministerial perks.
The Public Service Union has stated that the Union continues to keep a watchful eye on the situation and that they will follow proper protocol and act on the facts. The Union has received some backlash for its position; many saying that the PSU is being too soft in defending the public officers.
The umbrella organization, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize yesterday stated that it intends to stand behind the PSU in its position.
“As the national body, we are looking at it from the angle of the real national issue, the corruption. Certainly, we are going to defend the PSU in defending these workers as they go through the process with the Public Service Commission. But at the same time, we are going to renew that call for the senate select inquiry, the release of those critical reports that Channel 5 has already started to make the information available to the general public, and we have seen things in those reports that are eye-openers. We are going to push for the Whistle-blowers Legislation which is critical in order to protect public officers when they have to blow the whistle. These are the things that the NTUCB will do as an organization; we will deal with it from a national perspective”.
Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow also commented on the situation. He says that whether or not the officers were pressured by the former Minister of State, Elvin Penner, if they engaged in wrong doing, they should not be excused.
“Now, public officers are clearly under the gun. For them to say that the minister, whom we all accept, was guilty of wrongdoing, as it were leaned on us, or persuaded us to do things without the proper documentation, to do things that were wrong, to my mind, that’s a ‘Nuremberg Defense’. That can’t serve. No minister should be able to tell you as a public officer to do something that you know is wrong. In addition to that, Godwin Hulse has made the point that he said to all his staff from the moment he became minister, “If any minister tries to lean on you to do something wrong, you tell them NO, or you come to me, or you tell them I won’t do it unless you go to my minister and have my minister authorize me to do what there is clearly no authority to be done. So, it doesn’t help to crucify Penner all over again. He is politically dead; he is being fired as a minister. But he public servants that are left behind, in my view, cannot be allowed to escape by employing their excuse, “well, it was Penner who asked me to do this”. It was wrong; you should never have complied with Penner’s request to do what was wrong”.
According to media reports, two other Senior Officers, this time in the Nationality Section are also on a termination threshold as Citizen Kim also managed to obtain a Belizean Nationality Certificate, for which files have reportedly gone astray.