The issuance of a fraudulent Belizean passport and nationality certificate to Kim Won-Hong, has opened Pandora’s Box to a slew of accusations of administrative misconduct at the Ministry of Immigration and Nationality.
For the past two months, allegations involving Immigration personnel and Government Ministers have dominated the headlines, as well as public discourse. There has been an immense outcry for disciplinary action to be taken against persons involved.
What is public knowledge so far, is that the presumed ring leader, former Minister of State in the Ministry of Immigration, Elvin Penner was stripped of his ministerial portfolio, while three Immigration Officers were placed on suspension, pending the outcome of an administrative investigation.
And that was pretty much the last we heard of the internal investigation – that is until last week, when it was reported that Director Maria Marin, recommended that the officers: Sharon Neal, Erwin Robinson and Omar Phillips be expelled for their allege led involvement.
That recommendation was submitted to the Public Service Commission for review, as the three public servants are slated to appear before the Commission for a hearing. But Marin’s submission’s has not been taken positively in some corners of society.
Private citizens, as well as the BNTU and COLA have come out in defense of the officers, stating that terminating their employment would be an extreme and rather unfair penalty, especially considering that Mr. Penner, who personally handled the process of preparing and delivering the passport, is not the focal point of any ongoing investigation by the Department, Police, or the Financial Intelligence Unit.
Criticism has also been directed toward the Public Service Union, as persons are demanding a reaction from the organization mandated to protect and aid public officers.
Today, Plus News sat down with President of the PSU, Marvin Blades and Industrial Relations Officer, Ray Davis, to discuss the Union’s position on the matter. Davis, who also serves as Senator for the Unions, told us that the PSU will act in accordance to the facts and information gathered. he says they cannot react haphazardly, but must operate in compliance with proper procedure.
“The position of PSU in regards to the three immigration officers is what has always been. We are here to represent the interests of those officers, and the union has been doing that. So, with regards to public outcry is a whole different issue. I think that is where, for example, the media plays a big role in educating the public as to process and procedure. As a union, we hold the process and the procedure because that is the standard we want to hold everybody accountable to. So, in effect for us to subvert the process and the procedure, is not in our interest”.
And what is the process? Davis explained.
Mr. Ray Davis: “The process is, these three officers were accused of wrongdoing, they were invited to show cause, why they should not be disciplined, they came to the Union, we worked with these three officers in the formulation of that reply and they have so replied. Having replied, the Ministry took a look at the reply and laid its own determination as to their view of the reply and have since forwarded it to the Ministry of the Public Service, their recommendation of the whole situation. So, the procedure is that, at this point, the Ministry of the Public Service through of the Public Service Commission looks at the information and ten a determination is going to be made at a hearing. At that hearing, the member has the opportunity to go, explain to the Commission their side of the story, and having heard the explanations from the members or officers, the of the Public Service Commission then makes a determination”.
At the conclusion of the hearing, should the PSU not be satisfied with the Commission’s determination, redress will be sought at Belize Advisory Council. The Union says it intends to handle the case with legitimacy, acting on the truth and not sensation.
Mr. Ray Davis: “If the Union is dissatisfied with teat determination, then we have the other recourse which is the Belize Advisory Council. It is a completely separate body from the of the Public Services Commission. So as far as the pubic officers are concerned, the process for them to be heard and for them to exculpate themselves, is already established. That is something that we continue to follow assiduously. We have all confidence that the officers involved, once they explain their situation, the truth will come to light. That is where we deal with, where the truth is. We are not really caught up with the hype that is surrounding the whole issue because this is a very big media hype with regards to the issue of Mr. Penner. Now, three officers are caught up in that parade out there”.
We queried President Marvin Blades on the feasibility of the officers receiving some sort of immunity in return for testimony against high ranking officials within Government and if it is even a route the PSU is willing to take. He explained that currently there is not yet a robust legislation to afford to such an opportunity, but that the Union is in preparing to negotiate for what may be named the Whistle-blower’s Legislation.
“Part of our proposal for the negotiations and we do go back on the table on the 28th, is, we had on our proposal, the Whistle-blower’s Legislation. That would help to solve some of these issues that you have where a politician nor anybody who’s doing corruption can be remedied. So, the whistle blowers legislation was on the table as part of our negotiation and it was agreed to be exact by the three lead Ministers for it to be drafted and implemented. Now, because we are still negotiating; we have not started that Whistle-blower’s Legislation, but we intend that that whole part put that so that that come follow through, so that we can at least public officers or those persons that are caught in those nets, can, as you said give up those persons in immunity for whatever. But as it is right now, we don’t have that. So, that’s why we are asking in our proposals for the Whistle-blower’s Legislation.