Important Note: This Internet version of 7 News is a verbatum
transcript of our evening television news script. Many interviews on our newscast
are conducted in Creole. In the interest of clarity for our foreign readers,
we attempt to paraphrase the Creole quotes in English
The Prime Minister presented the 2017/2018 budget on March 13th - and the debate started 10 days later. The two day event is the highlite of the annual parliamentary calendar because almost all of the 31 members present on the budget. They can speak for as long as they want, and many of the representatives go on for extended periods about all that's good or bad in the budget. The Leader of the Opposition always starts it off with his response to the budget. This year, he outdid the Prime Minister, with a presentation that lasted for one hour and eighteen minutes, about half an hour longer than the PM. Briceno keyed in on what he said are major omissions in the budget:..
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "They present a budget that offers no plan to help the still struggling productive sector. They will not build one new school; they will not reduce poverty by even a fraction of a percent. No ordinary Belizean will benefit from anything contained in this budget."
"The Prime Minster in his presentation said that the priorities for his budget will help government to live within its means, that it will support Belizean families, invest in the skills of our young people, make Belize a better place to do business and to live."
"Which planet is this Prime Minster on?"
"Is he aware that we had over 100 murders last year and this year already we have had 30 murders in 80 days? Did he forget that our economy contracted by 0.8 percent?"
"How can he achieve any of this when he can't even grow the Belizean economy?"
"As for the Prime Minister's projected primary surplus of 37 million dollars, we ended up with a primary deficit of 56 million dollars instead, an actual shortfall of 93 million dollars or 1.6 percent of GDP. This is in spite of the dramatic increase in fuel taxes. Instead of an overall deficit of 62 million dollars, this UDP government had an overall deficit of 160 million dollars, almost 100 million dollars worse than projected."
"In other words, the Prime Minister went out and taxed us more, borrowed more and spent more, almost $300 million more of money the government does not have."
"Where in this budget do we find the assurance that good paying jobs will be created for the more than 17,900 unemployed Belizeans and the many young Belizean who will join the work force come June? How will sucking another 80 million dollars in new taxes to pay for more government waste grow the middle class and help those on the margins who are working so hard climb out of poverty?"
"I wish with all my heart that I could support this budget. I wish with all my heart that I could lead my party to support it as well, but I can't, we can't."
"How I wish we could say to the Belizean people that this budget would do something good for Belize, after all the last budget left us on the verge of bankruptcy and I feel the anxiety of Belizeans, it is ubiquitous."
"I wish I could say that this budget will in some way help poor Belizeans who are struggling every day just to put food on the table, but there is nothing in this budget that will lift one single Belizean out of poverty."
And so, that presentation got the ball rolling. The Prime Minister will wind up the debate sometime tomorrow. That's when he usually rebuts all the major points made by opposition members and puts it all into one compressed presentation. But, today he broke form right after the opposition leader was finished. He said there was just one thing that was so glaring, that he could not leave it to stand unchecked. IT was a very unusual point of order - and here's how it went:...
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "The Prime also told the media that the bond restructuring fees, now listen, to the bond holders local and foreign advisors added to around 12 million dollars. We have now come to learn from the budget estimate itself, in CAP 2 expenditures for the Ministry of Finance - that the bond restructuring fee will amount to 20 million dollars. 8 million more than he led us to believe."
"Now, listen, the bond holders to sign on, they get a little bonus of 2.6 million dollars. And additional 5.6 million was paid to their negotiators - you know the US attorneys and their US accounts or whatever, so they get 5.6 million."
"Now, listen to this, member for Cayo South, check this out - our Belizeans negotiators who are supposed to try to help us, you know how much they are collecting? 11.8 million dollars. These are your numbers Prime Minister."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "I merely wanted to correct this howler of which..."
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "Madam Speaker, on a point of order. We at this time at the closure..."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "Provide for this correction..."
Hon. Francis Fonseca "I want to establish clearly that is now setting a precedence and that the chair... every time any speaks, we are then able to respond to what they have to say if we want to clarify a point. That is now the precedence."
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "All it does is to indicate what the expected out turn will be of 20 million Belize dollars. There is no breakdown between what is being paid to the foreign consultants and to the local consultants and for the Leader of the Opposition to suggest that the figures disclosed an 11.1 million dollar payment locally is absolutely outrageous."
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "He pointed out that he paid the bond holders to a signing on fee of I think it was about 1.3 million dollars US. You said that. Then he said that foreign consultants got paid 2.8 million dollars US. When you add that and convert it to Belize dollars, you end up with 9.2 million dollars. You subtract that from 20 million - that is what it will give you. It's his numbers, not my numbers."
After that brief digression, the debate resumed, with John Saldivar giving his response to the Leader of the Opposition. He always gets the job of responding to the PUP Leader, and this year he said Briceno missed the boat completely:...
Hon. John Saldivar "And he spoke about, no ordinary Belizean is going to benefit from this budget, but yet he goes on to say that we have sustain our pro-poor programs at the end he even offered that if we wish to increase, if we want to bring a supplemental budget here to increase these programs, that he would be happy and his party would be happy to support it. That means that he is admitting that in this budget as has been in the budgets of all the UDP administrations since we've been the government, we have had these pro-poor programs in place and this budget, in spite of the austerity that we are experiencing, still contains these programs."
The PUP Deputy Leader Cordel Hyde came up next, and he said that despite what Saldivar has put out there, there are difficult days ahead, particularly for the poor and vulnerable:...
Hon. Cordel Hyde- Area Rep, Lake I "If you listen to those on the other side of the house: we should be happy because there will be no retrenchment this year and no wage freeze and no business tax increase; and don't get us wrong, you know, we are happy for our public officers and our business persons for this little break, but just because we have averted these possible calamities doesn't mean a more enduring catastrophe isn't about to take place. The truth is madam speaker, we have some difficult days ahead. History will condemn the UDP for the wild Petrocaribe spending but in the meantime the big wigs in the UDP are laughing all the way to the bank while the people are left holding the shaft. Madam speaker allow me to say something where the sale of BEL shares to SSB is concerned, the question I have is this: after the government has sold all the shares in BTL and BEL to SSB, what will they have to the sell next? What uno a sell? John? Rene? Pablo? Nobody no the buy. The only person weh wah buy John da mista Mason. But fih the fire department, they cut the budget by almost a million dollars you know. Now, anybody weh the listen to the news know that over the last year, da every other day there's a fire inna Belize. By the own statistics of the fire department there were a 165 fires last year. That means there is a fire almost every 2 days and they cut the budget by almost a million dollars. I dunno how they a deal with that. They have put a fatwa on the school feeding and nutrition program of the Ministry of Education. They are allocating a measly $8,000 for that program you know and last year they allocate $500,000, they spend almost $600,000 but this year's budget book have $8,000. Da wah sick sick joke mein. You say you pro poor but that program deh da wah good program weh dih Ministry a Education have. That program deh, hundreds of kids dih benefit, dih look forward to a meal everyday from that program and you wah give it $8,000; I no know weh dih go an."
6 days ago, we told you about convicted killer Osmar Sabido who went to the Court of Appeal to get his conviction for murder reduced to manslaughter. Well, the Court of Appeal said yes to that today - sending shockwaves across Orange Walk town. The panel of judges found that Justice Herbert Lord did not factor in that Sabido was provoked into viciously stabbing his common-law wife, 21 year-old Christie Carrasco to death.
As we told you, Justice Lord found him guilty of murder in a trial without jury last year April. But his attorneys, Leeroy Banner and Oscar Selgado, went to the Appeal Court to argue that Sabido wasn't in his right mind when he killed his common-law wife. You'll remember that Sabido testified in the trial last year that the fight started when Carrasco told him that she thinks that she is pregnant for another man.
The judges of the Court of Appeal, after considering the arguments of the DPP's Office as well, agreed that he is guilty of committing a crime, but that it wasn't murder. It's a controversial outcome of high profile case out of Orange Walk, and this evening, we discussed it with one of his attorneys after the court handed down its ruling:
Oscar Selgado, Attorney for Osmar Sabido "Justice Lord sitting alone as judge of fact and of law, sitting alone as judge without a jury, found that there was enough evidence upon which the crown had succeeded to prove the elements of murder and convicted Osmar Sabido for the crime of murder and sentence him to life imprisonment."
"We appealed, Mr. Leroy Banner and myself appealed on several grounds and one of the grounds was that the learned trial judge did not take into consideration the evidence which showed that Osmar Sabido was provoked and the defence of provocation was substantive. In the evidence that came before the trial judge, Osmar Sabido swore on oath that in fact Christie Carrasco, the deceased, was the person who first attacked him with a knife after she had disclosed to him that she had another man - she was in another relationship. The court of appeal dwelled on provocation a lot and in its ruling held that in fact the judge erred in not considering provocation to the full extent. Thereby allowing a partial defence to Osmar Sabido. It's a partial defence which reduces the charge of murder to manslaughter and the court has so held that the evidence displayed that in fact Osmar Sabido was provoked."
Daniel Ortiz, 7News "How do you reconcile what the court is viewing as law and appropriate when compared to the emotional impact of the violent act?"
Oscar Selgado, Attorney for Osmar Sabido "The court will balance sending a strong public condemnation to this type of behavior, along with what is reasonable to rehabilitate the offender."
Reporter "You argument sir, forgive me for asking: is similar that one that was presented to the courts about 2 weeks or less with regards to another instance where an individual stabbed and killed his common law wife multiple times and then use the argument of provocation to have a lesser sentence. Is this what we are seeing now as a potential trend in terms of litigation of these matters?"
Oscar Selgado, Attorney for Osmar Sabido "Each case is decided on upon its own merits."
This is the second appeal of a trial without a jury outcome that the Court of Appeal has allowed this week.
Another big case that went to the Court of Appeal this week is the Government's attempt to get a 8.8 million dollar award of damages set aside.
As we told you, the Bahamians, Rohn Knowles and Kelvin Leach, have sued the Government and won a judgement at the Supreme Court. Justice Courtney Abel has determined that the September 2014 raid on their Titan Securities office was excessive and abusive, and that they were entitled to compensation.
The Government disagrees with the court, and they believe that they should get no compensation, because their company was worthless after their criminal indictment for securities fraud and the ongoing suspension of their trade licenses by the US authorities. Titan disagrees, and they say that the Government is disregarding the damage they did with that police raid.
Attorneys Denys Barrow and Eamon Courtenay finished with their arguments before the Court of Appeal this afternoon. After the hearing ended, they gave us an unusual joint interview, rebutting each other's points in real-time. Here's that conversation we had with them outside of court:
Denys Barrow, Attorney for GOB "We rely on the fact that the effect of the government's, the order from the international financial service's commission which suspended the license - that suspension was never lifted and the government's case was therefore from the time that that suspension was issued, the businesses were dead. Therefore a business which is dead, a business which cannot continue to exist and to operate which can operate and earn zero dollars had no value and therefore to give compensation for the loss of a business which had zero value was wrong."
Daniel Ortiz, 7News "Does your argument disregard the fact that the search and seizure happened and shouldn't these clients or these persons be compensated at least for that, if the court has ruled that it was unlawful?"
Denys Barrow, Attorney for GOB "This is exactly the argument made by my learned friend. So I think he better speaks to that."
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for TITAN "Daniel, I think you captured the issue from our perspective. My learned friend had said that the case, the appeal should be argued on the basis that the search and seizure as found by the judge should stand. He left it by the court if they wanted to make any slight variations to that. But we were arguing about damages and I think the principle that we were seeking to establish before the court was that a wrong has been committed and if a wrong has been committed, there needs to be compensation."
"His argument was that we had to prove that the cause for which the damage occurred and my submission, based on the cases that we have reviewed is that it is sufficient to prove that a wrong has been committed, your constitutional right has been committed and therefore the court will declare that your constitutional right has been committed and thereafter if it feels appropriate, to award damages."
"Now, the bigger issue here in my view is the quantum. We put forward an expert opinion on the value of the business, future value of the business. Mr. Justice Abel reduced it by 80% and what we argued in the court here is that he was entitled to make that reduction in exercise of his discretion and that the government and the FIU has not put forward any reasons why his exercise of discretion should be interfered with."
"Now, I know their position is that these people should get zero dollars, but it cannot be right for someone's constitutional rights to be violated in such a egregious way and the answer to that is well we have mash up your business, hahaha we win you lose."
Denys Barrow, Attorney for GOB "Certainly there was an excessive seizure, more was taken away that was properly to have been taken away, but we need to bear in mind and we argued this part of it as well that police taking more than they should when they come to raid somebody's premises, let's say they come looking for weed or firearms and ammunition. They have been other instances where more has been taken, that has anything to do with what they came there for and that does not attract 8.8 million dollars' worth of damages and we are saying that what took place here was simply, and I say simply by reference to the 23 million US which was being claimed, what took place here was simply the taking away of an office load of equipment, files, computers etc., but it was not anything more than that. Government had no beef with these people. Government had not the slightest interest with these people. The US made a request for assistance. The assistance was provided and the police went too far in what they took and if some nominal modest amount of damages as happens in a normal case were to be given, I am sure the government would regard this as a proper exercise of the court's discretion."
The Appeal Court will deliver its judgment at a later date.
A well-known Sandhill fisherman drowned at sea over the weekend. 51 year old Barry Rosales also known as "Jaxey" left home on Friday morning with his regular fishing partner. They went to their favorite spot near Alligator Caye but Rosales became ill on the trip. Rosales stayed back to rest while his partner went out fishing but when he came back Rosales wasn't around. We spoke to Rosales' father this morning and he told us what he knows.
Arthur Rosales, Father "Early Friday morning at about 7-8am, he went out to sea."
Courtney Weatherburne, 7News "So he told you all that he was going fishing?"
Arthur Rosales, Father "They picked up from here and they say they will come back on Monday. When I got the call Sunday morning that he was missing and they can't find him on the caye. That was about it. I Spoke to the men when they came in and they explain to me that look like he walk out to the sea, because they found his body out there."
Courtney Weatherburne, 7News "You understand that we wasn't feeling so well right?"
Arthur Rosales, Father "Yes because he told his mother that he had pain in his stomach."
Courtney Weatherburne, 7News "Did he suffer from any sickness at all?"
Arthur Rosales, Father "No, you know when you drink, you stomach gives a little trouble. He drinks a lot, I can tell you that."
Courtney Weatherburne, 7News "So when did they actually find his body?"
Arthur Rosales, Father "Yesterday evening they say they found him."
Courtney Weatherburne, 7News "You weren't expecting to hear that news, because he always goes fishing. This is something he normally does."
Arthur Rosales, Father "Yes, sometimes he is out there a whole month, a whole week or so, especially when crayfish season opens."
The report is that Rosales, in his sickness or uneasiness picked up his bag and walked into the sea and drowned. His body was brought in today and buried immediately. Police say that no sign of violence was observed on the body and no foul play is suspected. A postmortem examination certified the cause of death as drowning.
Yesterday we told you about the corned beef crisis in the Caribbean. Several countries in the region have banned the importation and sale of corned beef from Brazil after reports came in claiming the certain processing facilities were selling rotten meat. Apparently, as many as 21 facilities were flagged by Brazilian authorities for the irregularities in their health certifications. Those factories are being re-audited and have been suspended from exportation in the mean time.
Jamaica and Barbados were among the first to respond, banning the importation of the canned products. And today, the Belize government followed suit. This evening the Ministry of Health and BAHA issued a press release outlining their plan for dealing with the situation. According to the release, there will be a temporary suspension on import permits for Brazilian corned beef. Additionally all corned beef enroute to Belize will be confiscated and tested. All Brazilian corned beef already in the country will also be quarantined and sampled to ensure its safety.
These measures will be put in place until the Brazilian authorities can ensure that the corned beef being exported by these 21 facilities are up to standard. We spoke to a Grace Kennedy yesterday, and they told us that as far as they know, the processing facilities that they get their beef from has consistently and reliable qualified for licensing from the British Retail Consortium, which sets sanitary and quality standards.
Remember the silt that swallowed up the sea at southern foreshore last year February? Well while that problem was addressed, it's now plaguing residents in the Yabra area. That sticky funky stuff is clogging the Yabra Canal and spreading fast. The fisherfolk who live in that area are feeling it the hardest because they can't pull up their boats. Today we met City Councillor Phillip Willoughby along with personnel from the Department of the Environment at the scene. There were assessing the situation in the canal to see what can be done. Willoughby explained how they plan on cleaning out the silt and what residents need to do to help:
Phillip Willoughby, City Councillor "The residents from within this area have their concerns and we want them to allay those concerns to know that the city council is on top of it. We have agencies on the ground with us involved looking at the situation and basically we are doing this reconnaissance to get an assessment done and those recommendation then will be shared amongst the relevant agencies and we put a plan of action into play to try and resolve or rectify this anomaly here."
Courtney Weatherburne, 7News "What's the cause of this problem? Like how do we get to this stage?"
Phillip Willoughby, City Councillor "This is what the assessment and the findings that I believe the DOE is looking at and then we will have also hydrology in to look at what is creating this."
"What is compounding the problem though is the residents behavioral tendencies, all of us, the entire community - everyone. If you look along the routes of the canal that connects to east and west collet canal which connects to the Caribbean Sea, you will see a lot of garbage in the canals. You will see built up of silt. Whenever it rains, persons say 'oh you haven't clean the drains and then the flood and then my house flood, my yard flood.' But we are doing our part. We are the vanguards of the city doing our jobs. But we would like the residents to do their part and play their role to educate their child by not throwing garbage in the canals or even the parents of the adults - don't do that. Because there are repercussions for those actions. There are effects that you are affecting the entire community and the drainage of the city. So we will do what we have to do. Just looking at east canal and west canal, what my recommendation would be almost immediately upon receiving the vacuum truck - we can look at damming off in sections and then vacuum out the silt and cleaning out the garbage to create that flow."
We will keep following the work on the Yabra Canal.
Today another elderly woman was charged in court for an offense related to crack-cocaine. 67 year old Ida Simpson, a resident of Gan's Rest House, was busted this morning with 0.6 grams of crack-cocaine. According to Simpson, she bought the illicit drug off a boy on the street for $3.
When she appeared in court today, Simpson immediately pled guilty to possession of controlled drugs. But, she told the Magistrate that she used the crack as a substitute for Advil or Anacin. Despite her guilty plea, Magistrate Carlon Mendoza was hesitant to send a woman of her age to prison, instead deciding to impose a non-custodial charge, fining her $100 plus a $5 court fee. Mendoza then asked if she had any form of income to pay the fee, to which she told him that she only made money from carrying bags for people.
This is not Simpson's first court appearance and has previous been charged for possession. She has until May 23 to pay the fine, or she will spend one month in prison.
Last night, we brought you coverage from the latest hearings on Immigration, where officer Inez Casanova finally gave the Senate Select Committee a positive identification on who this "Mr. Middleton" is. As you saw, he's Barton Middleton, and though very little is known about him, he's quickly gaining infamy due to the testimonies of persons who have gone before the Senate Committee. They have heard startling accounts that he was handsomely paid to act as an immigration agent, so that he could push through 6 visa applications for Chinese nationals.
It all sounds dubious, and he is being linked to corruption and theft within the Immigration Department, but the person who gave him a face in these senate hearings is Officer Cassanova. We showed you how the Senate was skeptical of the answers she was giving them on Barton Middleton. Tonight, we have a little more on that testimony where the Senators kept challenging Casanova that she knows more about Middleton than she wants to publicly admit. Here's that back and forth:
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "Your testimony has changed, do you realize that from what you said earlier?"
Inez Casanova - Immigration Officer "In what way?"
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "In that this morning you said they came to you asking you for a Mr. Middleton and you called first the Mr. Middleton who was an ex immigration officer. You did not get him. Subsequent to that you called the second Mr. Middleton, which turns out to be Barton. That's what your testimony said earlier this morning. If you like to see or hear the transcript, we can do that. Is that what you recollect that you said this morning? Perhaps you want to speak to your counsel."
Inez Casanova - Immigration Officer "When they came they asked me for a Barton Middleton. Then I called, yes I did called the brother just to make sure if he was - I mean he works with me. He didn't answer the phone. Then I call Barton and Barton came."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "You did not give them the name Barton, because in their testimony to this committee they said they were looking for a Mr. Middleton. We didn't know who this Mr. Middleton was. Everybody is looking for this elusive Mr. Middleton and I thank you very much for finally confirming and identifying Mr. Middleton for us today, but they did not know, according to their testimony who Mr. Middleton was. So did you give them the name Mr. Barton Middleton?"
Inez Casanova - Immigration Officer "Yes sir I did."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "You gave them the name Barton Middleton. So you are changing your testimony again, because earlier you said that they came to you asking you for Mr. Barton Middleton."
Inez Casanova - Immigration Officer "I call his brother, it wasn't his brother and...."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "I don't believe that, but let's move on."
Inez Casanova - Immigration Officer "Then I call Barton Middleton and it's not strange that I call Barton Middleton to come."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "And what is more from the documents that we have, Mr. Middleton then discloses to the immigration officers where he got the visas from. That's just luck that you knew who to call and the person who came spilled the beans? Luck, chance?"
Inez Casanova - Immigration Officer "It's not luck sir."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "Then what is it, we are trying to get at?"
Inez Casanova - Immigration Officer "I don't know."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "Or you don't want to say?"
Inez Casanova - Immigration Officer "I don't know."
Hon. Eamon Courtenay "I have to say to you Miss Casanova that you have left a very uneasy feeling. I don't think you are being frank with us. I think you know more and stress to you that we have no evidence so far that you were involved. It is simply that you are here to assist us."
We now show you another portion of the Senate hearing and the questions the Committee had for Erwin Robinson. He was the former Immigration Data Entry Clerk who - if you follow the hard evidence - took a picture of Won Hong Kim, a man who never entered Belize, and then assisted to print a Belize passport for this South Korean Fugitive, a document he never qualified for. But Robinson says he didn't do it.
Here's the Senate showing him that picture and asking him to explain himself:
Hon. Aldo Salazar "You were the one who captured Wonhong Kim's data in the system?"
Erwin Robinson "Yes sir."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "But we found out subsequently that Wonhong Kim was never in Belize, he was in detention."
Erwin Robinson "I understand that too and I have found that out also."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "So how do you capture data for somebody who was in a different country?"
Erwin Robinson "It's very rough, because I understand from my point the way it looks, but like I said that day everything was done. From my part, everything I was supposed to do I did as a process. You enter the information, you take the picture and when it came back..."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "You take the picture, whose picture did you take?"
Erwin Robinson "I don't know. I took a picture of a man."
Hon. Elena Smith "Did you tell Senator Lizarraga earlier that you could not take a picture of a picture to use in the system?"
Erwin Robinson "Not to my knowledge. I have never seen it done. Not to my knowledge."
Hon. Elena Smith "Would you be able to tell the difference between a picture that you take of me as opposed to a picture of a picture of me?"
Erwin Robinson "I would think so, I would believe so. It would probably be blurry or maybe it would have like a glare or something."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "The other one, Wonhong Kim, you see any difference about it?"
Erwin Robinson "Like I said it does look a little different from the others."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "You see there is a shadow. That is out of sync with what you would understand to be duress, correct?"
Erwin Robinson "Yes sir."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "But this is the person that you said you photographed?"
Erwin Robinson "I remember doing the photo that day."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "This is the photo that's in the system that you said you took."
Erwin Robinson "Yes sir."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Why is the shadow there?"
Erwin Robinson "I really do not know. I cannot explain it. It has been a strange occurrence for me also."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "You have testified that you took the picture of man. So it was your user. This is the picture that was taken. So this would have had to be the man who sat before you right?"
Erwin Robinson "To my knowledge, yes."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Have you seen what the real Wonhong Kim looks like?"
Erwin Robinson "I've see a couple pictures on the news. I've seen the image and I've not said that I've seen that specific man. The only thing that I know is that the day that I did the data, there was a man there."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "This man?"
Erwin Robinson "To my knowledge, the man on the passport. When I'm doing the data - everything had already came, so I had no reason to think otherwise. It was already accepted by the front desk."
And as we alluded to last night, Won Hong Kim was not the only passport applicant who's image mysteriously ended up in the passport system without having been here to take a picture personally. There are others, and Robinson's user account was also used to do it. So, does it establish a pattern of behavior from Robinson, or are these other instances where - as he tells it - he was set up? Here's the back and forth he had with the Senators:
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "How Mr. Robinson, you were involve in another case or your name in another case where there was a picture of a picture. You're familiar with that case?"
Erwin Robinson "No sir."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "Mr. Yakut Sup."
Erwin Robinson "I am not sure. Nothing ever came up about that. That one is new to me."
Hon. Mark Lizarraga "Well again Mr. Robinson, you were the person that created the file, all on the same day."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Yakut Sup is passport for a Turkish person. You were the data capturer person. This person would have had to come and sit in front of you as well for you to take his picture. The Auditor General says that that picture is the same as the one in his nationality certificate which turns out to be a fake and that picture as well is the same as the application form. So then how could the same picture you took also appear before you took it?"
Erwin Robinson "I really don't know."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Bad luck followed you."
Erwin Robinson "Like I said, if someone was doing this to me now, it doesn't mean that they haven't done it before. It's not something that I come to work looking for. I come to work to do my job."
Hon. Dr. Carla Barnett - UDP Senator "The only situations are no Mr. Yakut Sup and Mr. Wonhong Kim. There may be others as well and therefore for me it's an indication that it's something that needs to be further investigated. So I'm going to ask Mr. Robinson again, is there any time at all that you were able or you tried and failed or any way of trying to take a picture of a picture? The 3 of these are indicated as being done by you."
Erwin Robinson "Ma'am, I understand. It is very impossible for me to be able to do that, because like I said it's an open area. We have customers. So I would never try anything of that level."
And while the testimony so far has been revealing, today, the PUP Member for Lake Independence said that all those who have appeared so far are just previews, he's waiting for the stars to make their showing!:...
Hon. Cordel Hyde- Area Rep, Lake I "It's under your watch, that's why we are watching week by week the dripping revelation of seedy corruption at the immigration department. But you know all the weekly testimonies are just previews of coming attractions you know. You know, when you used to go da Palace, they have a lot of previews before the real movie? Well the real movie ah be when the ministas turn to testify, that's when the real movie. Like I can't wait fu hea the man weh like seh: Jules you know me. Jules no know you at all cause Jules a can't save you. When fi he turn fuh testify I will tune in from 10 to 10 cause I no wah miss a word a his testimony."
Today the Legacy Fund and the Belize Chamber of Commerce held a presentation to discuss Superbond 3.0. The presenter, Ervin Perez, Managing Director of the Legacy Fund, ran through the history of the Bond and the implications of the latest version that government closed the deal on one week ago. Perez broke down his presentation down for us...
Ervin Perez - Managing Director, Legacy Fund Ltd. "So a brief overview was simply that we wanted to see how we got here with the superbond 3 and to show the comparisons between the different stages in the external debt. The other thing was to really emphasize that the challenges that we faced, even if given this opportunity in terms of a better cash profile with the debt, a lower interest rate, a shaving of the principal that we have a structural issue in the country and that has been the case for over the last 23 years where government administration after administration has spent more than they have taken in revenue and so they have to borrow and then as a country we have consumed more in imports than we have exported. So we have to barrow and those are called twin evils."
"When you combined those over a period of time you have to constantly borrow. Its juts like if you have your own home and you spent every single month more than you earn. What do you do? You have to go to a loan shark or you have to go to the bank and that monthly habit builds. So by the end of the year all the months that you have a home deficit, will add up in the level of debt that you have and what we are saying if we don't change structurally as country - this is beyond blue, red, UDP, PUP - any new party, if we don't make the structural changes as you've heard here from our audience - changes in terms of how regulators do business, in terms of the corporate sector, in terms of investment in education - if we don't do that, then we will be right back here 3 years from now worrying about we go to debt service and thinking about defaulting again."
"All of this has some bad challenges when it comes to our country and to our kids."
Reporter "How beneficial is such an exercise in terms of educating the business community today?"
Ervin Perez "This type of exercise. We have quarterly sessions with the chamber of commerce on what we think are important topics. We've gotten a lot of positive from that. I don't know if you guys recall, the last session we had, we were advocating that the government auction their securities in the domestic market so it's more market friendly and I can say that we have accomplish that. In the past the government would, through the Central Bank, there was no information on the auctioning of the securities. Currently, the treasury notes are now auction and the results of those action are put in the paper now."
"This might sound weird for the audience. How important is that? Well government debt in the domestic market is a measure of what corporate - what private sectors should be paying. So it sets a benchmark them. So it was very important for them to go there, especially when you are trying to seek efficiencies now, to have a benchmark. We and the chamber believes, I am speaking for myself here that these conversations are important, because not only do we want to express our ideas, but we want to hear from the private sector, from different stake holders what their thoughts are."
Perez mentioned that a meeting with the Economic Development Council has already been scheduled to go over the feedback received from the event, and to help pave the way forward.
And while the politicians will be verbally jousting over the budget, Ervin Perez, who is an economist and financial advisor, gave us his clinical assessment of the UDP's plans for the next fiscal year...
Ervin Perez - Managing Director, Legacy Fund Ltd. "Well clearly the public servants have gotten their increments. So there's going to be no impact on their wages, in fact they're going to be a small increase in their wages but when we look at government expenditure cuts in capital expenditure, about 98 mil, whenever government slows down economic activity there's always a fall out. The question we were asking is if that cut would be replaced by private sector investing. If that doesn't happen we will see a further slow down in the economy and some challenges for the low skilled worker out there who probably gets his income or her income from activities from construction etc. We particularly didn't see it as an austerity budget, as one that did not really take a clear look at what we need to do now to deal with the issues that we're facing. But then it's difficult to pass that kind of budget. Nobody want to be taxed, everyone is saying we can't afford a tax, and everyone is saying we need more revenues, we need more government expenditure. So it's a real challenge to satisfy all the different demands."
Reporter "There's a particular perspective that has been shared with the media in respect of the attempt to grow by 3. Some odd percent given the fact that over the past few years government has been operating in the red. As an economist what are you views on this so called turn around?"
Ervin Perez "Well to be honest I have been a bit confused, about the economics that we see. Whenever economists like to say or use little heuristics to see where the market is going. So usually in a recession what you would see is very little construction, but when you look around in our economy there seems to be a lot of construction taking place. The other thing is usually you also looking restaurants, you look in restaurants to eat, you see in a recession restaurants are usually empty and bear, everyone is cutting back. You guys go out on Thursdays and Fridays it's crowded, everyone is eating. So the question is do we have an economy that is Jekyll and Hyde? Is there something happening that the SIB data is missing? From our perspective we think that the informal economy is huge. What does that mean? The economy that's not recorded is large, and so its impact what you really see. That does not mean that the certain industries like the commodity industries are not struggling. The shrimp, citrus and bananas we're having challenges where and we have to work with those industries. But it says that perhaps we have an economy that's not really integrated, and some sectors like the tourism service sectors might be growing leaps and bounds and other traditional areas are suffering. It's quite a mix, and something has to be done in terms of the numbers so we can see what's really happening in the economy I think."
Belize has been chosen as the location for the Wyndham Hotel Group's newest resort. The hotel giant announced today that it is planning to open up a huge new resort in Ambergris Caye. The 242 room resort is scheduled to be completed in December of next year and will boast 5 towers, 11 waterfalls, Venetian canals and bridges, and the largest hotel pool in the country.
In a press release about the announcement, Wyndham said that Belize was chosen after its constant appearance on top vacation destination lists from the New York Times, The Lonely Planet and US News. The country's recent increases in overnight tourists also prompted the decision. The new resort is expected to hold around 350 people, and employ about 250.
The Belize Protectors, a team of athletes from different branches of Belize's national security forces, is heading to California tonight. The team is travelling to once again participate in the Baker to Vegas Competition: a 120 mile, 20 leg relay races from Baker, California to Las Vegas, Nevada. Last year the team participated in the mixed category, where they came in 1st. This year, after being unsuccessful in finding enough females to participate, an all male delegation is being sent to defend the title. We spoke to some of the athletes and one of their coaches about the competition and the preparation it took to get them ready to race...
The athletes will be primarily running through a desert area, which will expose them to extreme heat by day and extreme cold by night.
And while the Belize Protectors are defending their title, other members of BDF are distinguishing themselves in Guyana. Francisco Choc was recognized as one of the top graduates in the Guyana Defense Force's 49th Standard Officer Course. Choc received awards for Best Student, Military Knowledge and Best Fitness. Choc graduated alongside fellow BDF soldier, Caleb Rodriguez and 10 other members of the Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda Defense Forces.
The participants were trained in Open Country Warfare, as well as jungle and small boat operations. Only 12 of the original 36 completed the course.
Going back now to today's budget debate, after Cordel Hyde, it was unto Wilfred Elrington, and then to Said Musa. Musa used his presentation mostly to absolve himself and his administrations of any superbond wrongdoing, but when Musa got around to bashing the current state of Belize's Foreign affairs minister, well ...let's just say Foreign Minister Elrington didn't take that attack well at all. Here is how their exchange went.
Rt. Hon. Said Musa "On Tuesday March 17th on the visit of the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, the minister pontificated again, that in his mind we do not have any agreed borders with our neighbor Guatemala. HE completely ignores the fact that in 1859 a treaty was signed in which our borders with Guatemala were defined. He completely ignores the historic fact that in the 1930s surveys were done for the western borderline and at which concrete monuments were put down at various points, at Gracias Adios and Garbutt's Falls."
Hon. Patrick Faber "I rise on a point of order Madam Speaker, he ought to sit down. That's what the standing orders says."
Hon. Laura Longsworth, Speaker of the House "Okay, so are you yielding please?"
Hon. Patrick Faber "He does not have a choice to yield, there is a point of order. Madam Speaker, the member is to confine his debate. I would want to know what is he talking about? He is far away from the... your contribution on the debate must be on the matter. He is talking about Guatemala and what the minister said about the border and all of that. Has absolutely nothing to do with the estimates, nothing to do with this bill whatsoever."
Rt. Hon. Said Musa "Madam Speaker, the economic situation on Belize is part of the budget exercise and to discuss the economic situation of our country, we have to discuss the fact that we have a neighbor with an unfounded claim to our country. That is very relevant and this minister ignores the historic fact that in 1931 joint commissioners exchanged notes stating that these monuments form part of the boundary line between British Honduras and the Republic of Guatemala. But he goes further to say we do not have any agreed maritime borders - failing to recognize that the international law of the sea clearly spells out what is the area of our territorial sea and what is the area of our exclusive economic zones."
Hon. Wilfred Elrington "Point of order Madam Speaker."
Hon. Laura Longsworth, Speaker of the House "What is the point of order member?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington "Madam Speaker, the Honorable member from Fort George in his characteristics side is seeking to mislead the national house. Let me tell you what is the truth: between the period 2000 and 2005, his administration led by Assad Shoman sought to negotiate the maritime boundaries with the Guatemalans and the negotiations failed because it was pointed out that under international law, the land border is not recognized and therefore you cannot establish a maritime border. He should know that. That's basic law."
And while that would be categorized under just straight sparring, our next clips are from the Opposition Leader's official response to the Prime Minister's budget. He pointed out that the long promised upgrade San Pedro Clinic got no mention in the budget:...
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "In the last two budgets we were told about funding for the upgrade of the San Pedro Health Center to make it a full service 24-hour facility. This project first appeared in the 2015 budget; in fact it was on page 16. It was introduced a second time in the 2016 budget on page 18. This year it is gone, conspicuously absent from the 2017 budget. Is this because the task has been accomplished?"
"Well obviously not, San Pedranos can attest to the fact that they have the same inadequate facility. This was highlighted recently with the unfortunate passing of young Ms. Jordanie Olivera."
Hon. Briceno Says National Bank Tanking
And Briceno also used his response to key in on the National Bank which he says is racking up losses.
Johnny Talking Like Tosh?
And - having the luxury of being in opposition - Briceno also took the marijuana issue head on. The Barrow administration seems to have more or less chickened out on it, but multiple PUP speakers went all Peter Tosh on the issue and said "legalize it":
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "It is time for us to stop locking up our young people for a stick of weed. The time has come for us decriminalize marijuana smoking and prepare the necessary research to move to legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes and in small quantities."
Hon. Hyde Singles Out UDP's Special Contractors
And PUP Deputy Leader Cordel Hyde used his hour long address to key in on some of the UDP Government's preferred contractors:
Hon. Cordel Hyde- PUP Area Rep, Lake I "IE, which is owned by the Arguelles brothers, has gotten contract after contract after contract from BIL. They built Battlefield park, they built Memorial park, they built BTL park, they built Falcon field in San Ignacio, they built the football field in San Pedro, they are building the Multipurpose center in Toledo and they got the mother of all contracts the Belize City Center for almost $35 or more million dollars; $42 million; without bidding…you hear? Now, the last time I heard about a contract this big was about 20 years ago- that was the Central Bank building, again, under the UDP. You would think that the people at BIL would want to maintain some distance between themselves and the owners of IE, just for optics purposes, but all weh BIl do this year dah lef their Belmopan offices and move right unto the Matalon building da Belize City weh owned by IE. Forget optics they no care weh uno think you know. They wah do weh deh wah do anyways. Then there is the matter of the Lake Independence Boulevard- that contract was given to a company named RGB Construction Company Ltd; RGB stands for Rommel G. Burgess. Now, while IE is a favorite of BIL, RGB is a favorite of the Belize city council. No matter how RGB Construction Company Ltd screw up cementing streets they get more work. The more jobs they screw up the more jobs they get. They screwed up Holy Immanuel Boulevard in Lake Independence breda; holes this big. They screw up Chetumal Street and they still get more work. They just done Teacher's Street behind Westlandivar, wah bunch ah other streets I can't even remember all dih name, da so much street deh get. After all the jobs weh RGB screw up, you woulda think they coulda neva get wah contract from central government right? But they did. They got the big contract from central government to ready mix and deck out the Lake I Boulevard. In total from 2014 to now, government has spent almost $12 million dollars on that Lake I Boulevard and bridge project. In the case of RGB, I suspect their contract was to hot mix the boulevard but that has turned into a hot mess. They paid the company to hot mix it and as anybody knows who uses that road, the contractors have spent the last year and a half trying to fix up that colossal mess. According to the budget estimates that colossal mess up cost the tax payers of Belize $1.7 million dollars in the last financial year alone."
Wilfred's Words Against Cordel
The UDP Representative for Pickstock followed the PUP's Cordel Hyde and he basically said, how dare you talk about immigration or lands corruption:
Hon. Wilfred Elrington "I find it incredible that in fact the member would touch the issue of corruption, particularly as it relates to visas and to land. The book on corruption in relation to visas and passports was written by the PUP. All of them that are now wealthy got their wealth though the sale of passports and visas. And to call for a senate inquiry and listen to the senate inquiry and to have the "oohs" and "awes", these people are pass masters. They have made millions of dollars off it and none of them has been brought to book."
"Also too Mr. Speaker, in relation to land - they use to have a demonstration about save the barracks. Well go and find out who own Marina Towers at the barracks."
A Festival Flurry
And that's all we have for you tonight. We leave you on an up-note with highlites of the adorable preschoolers festival of the arts. These are Tuesday night's performances. Enjoy. And join Courtney Weatherburne here tomorrow.