Last week, the Special Select Senate Inquiry resumed at the National Assembly Building in Belmopan, with former Director of Immigration Maria Marin in the hot seat. She was back in that proverbial seat today, answering questions about the department she helped run for about 7 years. While a lot has been said about the department of immigration by the media and onlookers – it’s another thing to hear the former director, who was on the inside of it all, speak on the department. Thus far, a picture has emerged of a wayward and dysfunctional department were there was sloppy record keeping and where procedures and policies were regularly ignored.
Marin explained that reports would be submitted to the Ministry with the intent of it going to the Public Service Commission for some disciplinary action of some sort within the time frame within which it may have been submitted but by the time the case was called up, the case could no longer hold because too long a time had passed. Another issue she brought up was about transfers of Immigration officers. According to the former director, officers were transferred every 2 to 3 years based on transfer criteria recommendation which would be sent to the ministry for submission to the Public Service Commission. Marin said she did not see that the department was benefitting from those kinds of activities, so that was the kind of culture she wanted to see improved. To a large extent, the officers would be promoted from a technical level to a level that required supervisory management which led to deficits in management because the proper training was not done. As officers were promoted to positions that demanded management and leadership skills, it became obvious there was no culture of constant and continuous training. Proper accounting of records was another huge issue and while Marin said she tried to change that upon assuming the post of Acting Director, in many cases, it was “difficult to have officers accept it and own it.” When asked if she had brought the problems and issues encountered to the Minister’s attention, Marin said she did and the minister was supportive. She explained that when she was offered the position of acting director, the culture in the department of immigration was a point of discussion. Marin said had a different vision from the vision she walked in on, at the department. She said she had seen that there was lots of room for improvement but it would take commitment and will power from the decision makers to create the change. Marin said the department needs at least 3 assistant directors and more separation of processes. Shortly after being promoted to acting director in November 2013, Marin said she oversaw some changes:
Last week, we were on the edge of our seat waiting for Marin to produce an excel spreadsheet, which she claimed tracked ministers visa recommendations – keeping record of the frequency of recommendations per minister – due to the increase volume of requests. Today we did not get to see the list, although we have been trying to get our hands on it. In an interview with the audit team, Mr. Gordon Wade, who headed the Nationality section, said that ministers were allowed to submit incomplete application forms with the knowledge of the director at the time. Marin countered Wade’s allegations.
The former Director of Immigration, who now serves as the head of Refugee Department within the Immigration Department, became emotional when pressed for further recommendations she may have for the department she once served. Here’s that response: Marin was dismissed by the Senate Inquiry Team at the end of today’s session, but was informed that she may be called back, should the need arise.
Belize City Mayor was in Belmopan today, as he was last week, with his client, Former Immigration Director Maria Marin. When asked about the potential political fallout due to the inquiry, here’s what he had to say:
Darrell Bradley – Attorney for Maria Marin
“I want to first of all make the point that Ms. Marin was very adamant that she instituted certain reforms at the department, she recommended certain upgrades and changes including putting together proposals for greater screening, for information technology upgrades. She monitored these things and I think that her testimony both previously and today was very accurate and truthful and she indicated quite adamantly where these was any suggestion that any process be shortcut she was never involved in that and she would have always as a professional and as a person of integrity insisted on all the processed being followed. I think that her testimony both on the last occasion and on this occasion was very forth coming truthful and very substantive and I think that some cases where she had to testify about things which existed she was a bit uncomfortable but honest and I think that is what the senators expect, I think that is the spirit of the investigation inquiry being conducted here.”