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 Senate Hearings of Immigration were supposed to continue as normal today, but the witnesses who were called, showed up only to find out that the Committee no longer wished to question them.
Those witnesses, as we told you last week, were supposed to be the auditors from the Auditor General's team. These were the ones who actually went in and inspected the Immigration Department's records, to unearth all the irregularities.
So, they showed up to testify, but after the Committee completed their pre-hearing deliberations, they decided against calling them. The Chairman of the Committee explained it in a briefing this morning:
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee "The witnesses who are to come forward are from the audit team that carried out the process in compiling the report which is the auditor general's report and we really don't have consensus that we should really interview those persons as opposed to the auditor general herself who has that constitutional responsibility to answer question to who has compiled the report. The analogy has been made similar to say me, I'm an attorney I gave a legal opinion and I stand by that opinion. I sign it but inevitably we cannot do everything on our own, I have staff that help me with research and then you go around me and question my staff when I'm really the person who's responsible, I'm the professional, I'm the responsible person for that opinion. So that is where we have that lack on consensus so that is why we didn't go ahead today."
Daniel Ortiz "What is exactly the descending opinion in questioning the staff per say sir? Is it not proper?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "The question is - I'm not pronouncing on it, the question is one of propriety; whether it should really be done or whether it is the auditor general herself who must respond to those queries and not necessarily the people who did the work because if you look at the report it's signed by the auditor general."
Reporter "At the end of the day we see that a hearing is cancelled, did the committee did not have enough time to this type of consideration prior to experiencing what you guys have today?"
Hon. Aldo Salazar "I think it's unfortunate. I would say that the committee should have had the opportunity but I think you would note that we have been for the past few weeks in a situation where the committee as it is comprised has not been; all the members have not been present for some reason or the other so I think that is really what contributed to it and even so today regrettably Senator Smith could not be with us as well."
The press also asked the Chairman if the Committee has an estimate of how much longer the hearings will continue, before the entire inquiry comes to a close. The Senate investigation began in November of last year, and is now completing it's 8th month.
As we've showed you, Chairman Aldo Salazar thinks that the hearings should have ended already, and today, he said that the Committee has only a few more witnesses to be called.
Here's his answer to that question:
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee "For my part for wishing to wind it down I think from very earlier. I have my own views on what merit we've been gathering over the past few weeks. I only speak for myself when it comes to this, I think we are winding down, we should be winding down. As I've said as the chairman I want to make it clear, I do not have a vote that's why when you ask me certain things I cannot really give a definitive answer because I don't decide, those things are decided by the committee. I can only vote when there is an equal number of votes on either side then I cast vote but for my part I feel that we are about to wind down hopefully then we'll be able - I can start to write my report and when I say my report I meant taking ownership of the report. The rules require that I provide the first drive to the committee and then we deliberate. I don't know what the logistics of that will be but I will look forward to not having to prepare that draft on my own and to get input from the other members."
The Senate Committee is going to take a break for the entire month of August, until the 30th, when the Senators will visit the Immigration Department, which they planned a few months ago.
Some of the remaining witnesses will be called before the Committee to discuss measures which have since been implemented to strengthen the Immigration Department.
You will remember that before the hearings started, Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse publicly discussed a number of changes that were put into place after the Elvin Penner/Won Hong Kim broke in 2013.
The Committee will ask him to come and update them on any other changes to oversight procedures which they may not be aware of. Here's what the Chairman had to say on that topic:
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee "As far as I understand it there are many things that have come up in the course of the inquiry which the department has already addressed and for my part I am looking forward to hearing what has been since the emergence of these issues in the department, what has been done to correct it and I feel that for me would be more beneficial than some of the things that we've heard."
Reporter "Sir would it be safe to say that the current minister of immigration who I think was the minister at the time of this Godwin Hulse who has not been heard from? I think he told us from back in May that he had been subpoena but he hasn't been called and the current director of immigration Dianna Locke would be among those witnesses you mentioned would be heard towards the end of August."
Hon. Aldo Salazar "Yes I would have heard from Senator Hulse already and he's definitely going to be asked to come and from my understanding he is willing to come. I'm just waiting for us to let him know."
We'll have a little more from our interview with the Chairman in tomorrow's newscast, in which he discusses the PUP's swapping Senators in and out for the hearings over the past few weeks.
There have been some historic fires in the Corozal Free Zone - that have taken down multiple buildings - but a fire early this morning only destroyed one building. That is the Menandros Store in the Corozal Free - which is one of the oldest stores in the zone - established 12 to 15 years ago. The Fire Department says they responded around 1:00 AM, and found the building engulfed in fire. They managed to contain it but the building was completely destroyed - and eventually caved in. Menandros is Mexican - owned and sold all kinds of items from clothing to groceries. The value of the losses has not yet been ascertained but both the building and the stock were destroyed. The cause of the fire is yet to be determined and the investigation is ongoing. Today, the officer commanding Corozal told the media that the building is still cooling off, so it is too early to know the cause of the fire:
Supt. Sinquest Martinez - OC, Corozal Police "The fire department cannot say what the cause of the fire is right now because the place is still burning because of the contents that were inside the building. So hopefully by tomorrow we could establish more the cause of the fire. I know the building is ensured and the building is for a group of people."
Menandros was in a sin, pre-fabricated structure - which burns more easily than ferro-concrete structures.
The Chetumal Fire Department which has helped with Zone fires in the past - did not assist this time.
Errol Smith, the man who beat his friend, Marlon Peters to death in Santa Elena has been charged with manslaughter. Smith had turned himself in on Monday morning in the presence of his lawyer. The brutal beat down happened on Friday July 14th.
Smith and Peters were hanging out that Friday afternoon when they had some misunderstanding â€“ one that sent Smith into a rage where he attacked Peters and left him thrown in a Maxi Street yard unconscious. Peters survived but he couldn't hold on anymore and he died a week after, on Saturday. Smith was remanded to prison until September 22nd 2017.
Last week, Southside Commander Senior Superintendent Marco Vidal raised eyebrows when he said that gang mediators Dianne Finnegan, ACP Chester Williams and Nuri Mohammed should join in with an institution like the CYDP - rather than pursing their own agendas as independent mediators. Dianne Finnegan bristled, while ACP Williams put up a Facebook post saying he was with an institution, one called the Police Department.
So what does Minister of State with responsibility for Home Affairs Elodio Aragon think? He was a former Eastern Division Commander himself and he echoed Dianne Finnegan in saying, the peace effort needs all the help it can get:â€¦
Courtney Weatherburne "Marco Vidal he mentioned that he would prefer if Chester Williams, Dianne Finnegan and the mediators joint the CYDP instead of doing the personal mediation sessions with the gang members to quote 'Push their agenda'. What are your thoughts your comments on that do you agree with him?'"
Hon. Elodio Aragon - Minister of State, Home Affairs "Well first of all I didn't hear his comments but I everybody is entitled to their opinion. I do believe the intervention process is always an important step in trying to defuse the situation; where and how they do that is dependent on the personnel and how they feel is best to get the job done but I do believe the intervention process is important, I do feel that the police department should continue to engage and those who are interested in that we will not stop them from doing these things because I think at the end of the day whatever will help to reduce crime, we welcome it."
Courtney Weatherburne "So you would recommend for Mr. Chester Williams and Dianne Finnegan to continue their mediation sessions and their interventions as well right?"
Hon. Elodio Aragon "Well I don't think anybody has told them that they should not continue, that is what they are doing."
One noted academic has weighed in on the debate as well. He is Greg Nunez, currently pursuing a Ph.D in the UK. In yesterday's Amandala, he writes, quote: "There is an urgencyâ€¦which requires all hands on deck, not competing elementsâ€¦.The State must, despite probable reservations, consider itself a facilitator and broker of the peace process. The CYDP is strategically placed to lead this charge. Its staff has been conducting mediation for yearsâ€¦.Belize cannot continue to duplicate efforts by creating parallel systems."
The Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. David Tawei Lee and his wife, Mrs. Chih Lin arrived in Belize this afternoon. We cannot say much about the visit, because - in a sure sign of imminent institutional collapse - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn't even send out a press release, or an itinerary. All we got was this video of the formal welcome at an undisclosed location:
H.E. Patrick Andrews - CEO, Foreign Affairs "As CEO in this Ministry of Foreign Affairs I would like to extend a personal welcome to you and your delegation. This afternoon we're gathered here as witnesses to 2 very important events. The first is the signing of the memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation between our two governments. In this regard the government of Taiwan has been a most vigorous dependable and committed partner in Belize and in Belize's government. The type of development cooperation we enjoy with Taiwan is incomparable in both its reach, consistency, dependability and flexibility it affords to the government of Belize. In this climate of constantly declining development support it is good to know that there are friends who remain steadfast no matter the change of circumstance. As a show of our solidarity and appreciation to the people and government of Taiwan we will also witness the conferral at the order of the station to the Hon. Dr. David Lee."
Further details of the time frame for the Foreign Minister's return and his stops in Belize are unknown.
In just the past five days, police have circulated reports of 6 sexual assault cases involving minors. The sixth was reported today: it is a case on San Pedro where a man is accused of fondling his 13 year old grand-niece. According to the girl, her grand uncle fondled her in December 2016. Police has detained one person in this case.
And, in more disturbing news, the man who allegedly molested his 2 step daughters was charged with 9 sexual offences when he appeared today before Senior Magistrate Sharon Fraser.
He was charged with 3 counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with his 10 year old stepdaughter, 1 count of sexual assault and 1 count of assault on a child by means of penetration. He was also charged with 3 counts of sexual assault on his 8 year old stepdaughter and 1 count of assault on the child by means of penetration. The incidents allegedly happened between December 2016 and May 2017. The step dad was remanded into custody until September 28.
A Belize City man is lucky to be alive after he was shot in the chest late last night. Sometime before midnight, 27 year old stevedore Leroy Gladden was in front of his residence on Black Orchid Street socializing with friends. That's when two men pulled up, and one of them fired several shots at him.
Gladden was shot in the right side of his chest, and is listed in a stable condition. Police haven't made any arrests.
Last night between Ladyville and Vista Del Mar - a Chinese grocery store was robbed at gunpoint. At around 8:45, a man ran up on 58 year old storeowner Zheuchu Wu and demanded that he opened the door for his business, Mike's Store. Wu refused, and the man took out a black object resembling a gun, and again demanded that he open the door. He complied and that's when another man who was already in the shop hopped over to the cash register and snatched an undisclosed amount of money.
Police are investigating and reviewing security camera video.
On Monday we told you about a Scandinavian tourist who was raped at a hostel on Caye Caulker. Well, tonight the news is about another hostel, this one in San Ignacio. 21 year old Daniel Nicholson, the manager of Bella Backpack Guest House on Galvez Street said he was at work at about 1:00am this morning when he walked into his room and 3 men in dark clothing and with rags tied over their mouths and caps on their heads ambushed him.
Nicholson slammed the door but they stamped it open, and one of the men carrying a shotgun, held him up and removed a safe from the wall containing about $20,000 dollars in cash, a laptop, an iPhone and a gold chain. Police have made no arrests.
We hear about many cases that had to be thrown out of court because of lack of evidence. So yes properly collecting and securing evidence especially in high profile cases like murder is a really big deal â€“ murderers can walk free without it. That is why all the pressure is on the scenes of crime team to ensure that a scene is not tampered with in any way. Well the scenes of crime team got major help today when the US embassy donated $800,000 US dollars in equipment and vehicles. Courteny Weatherburne has more
This barricade tape, the police personnel shuffling within it and the flashing lights are all too familiar at any murder scene. But these setups aren't just to make a spectacle â€“ the scenes of crime unit have to thoroughly process the scene. It is a very involved process, one that the unit has been having difficulty carrying out because of the lack of resources and vehicles.
Those struggles should be significantly reduced after the US donated vehicles and a variety of equipment today:
Courtney Weatherburne "What are some of the issues or challenges you guys had to face without all this equipment or this donation?"
Lloyd Roches - Head, Scene of Crime Unit "Some of the challenges we had were the limited kits we had to take because the police had to come to our office and take us to the crime scene after they have responded to the crime scene. Now they could just call us and we will respond immediately with them to the crime scene."
While the donation itself is important, the impact it can have on the crime rate and in criminal court cases, is even greater.
Nathan Bland "Reducing the sense of impunity is an important element in reducing crime for all here in Belize. If people intending to commit a crime feel that there is a good chance they'll be caught and later prosecuted then they may think twice before committing that crime. The scene of crime unit here plays an important role in making sure that criminals do eventually get caught and due ultimately punished. The analysis and preservation of physical evidence done in a timely fashion at the crime scene critical to give reliable information to aid in the police investigations later which may ultimately lead to a successful prosecution."
Lloyd Roches "We are glad for this donation because we can prove that we can do whatever we want to do, no stones, no leaves will be left unturned for us because we have everything now in our vehicle and we also have some new cameras as well. So nothing will hamper us from processing our crime scene to the fullest."
The vehicles will be distributed to each scenes of crime office around the country. The ballistics office and the pathologist office also got equipment.
And while the Forensics team has gotten a major upgrade with this donation, it also got a major black eye last month when its ballistics expert Orlando Vera was convicted of abetment to pervert the course of justice. In the course of the trial it was revealed that he was offering an accused person to use his skills to get a case thrown out - all for a fee, or a bribe.
So how does this important unit guard itself against that sort of expert corruption? The Minister today said there is only so much they can do:
Hon. Elodio Aragon - Minister of State, Home Affairs "Anytime we have certain cases like that it's puts into question our forensic department. Such things will always throw a damper on things but I'm confident that the people are moving forward and they are doing that is necessary to ensure that these things as best as possible does not repeat itself."
Reporter "Will measures be put in place to make sure that we don't have these kinds of things happening?"
Hon. Elodio Aragon "Definitely and you have to understand that these things are not processed in our system that was breached, it is a matter that the person that was entrusted with these things that is an unfortunate incident and like I've always said we are working with human beings and at the end of the day we can only account for so much in terms of the systems we have in place but at the end of the day everybody is responsible for their actions."
Vera is serving a jail sentence but energetically appealing his conviction.
For almost 40 years, Froylan Gilharry's company has been operating buses along Belize's Northern route. That is, between the Mexico/Belize border and Belize City. In 2008, an injunction was filed and the Ministry of Transport halted the renewal of bus permits, however they made an agreement with Gilharry to allow him to continue running as usual, despite having an expired license. The Ministry allegedly also agreed to consider the renewal of Gilharry's bus permits once they were accepting applications again.
In 2011, Transport decided to cancel all existing bus permits, and instead have bus operators, including Gilharry, apply for new ones. Because the Ministry was seemingly disregarding their previous agreement, Gilharry went to court and tried to have these new permits stayed until his bus permit renewal application was considered. The case eventually went to trial while other bus companies applied for and were granted licenses formerly held by Gilharry. After several technicalities, that case was thrown out in the Supreme Court. Several appeals have been made since then, taking the case all the way up to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Which leads us to today, when the CCJ delivered its final judgement. Gilharry's attorney, Fred Lumor told us what they ruled...
Fred Lumor - Attorney for Gilharry "Today happily the CCJ in its decision ruled that the transport board did not lawfully and properly consider the renewal application of Mr. Gilharry and also found that the transport board frustrated the legitimate expectation of Mr. Gilharry. Frustration of legitimate expectation simply means that the transport board made a promise to Mr. Gilharry in 2008 that once they start issuing licenses they would consider his renewal application and issue it and they failed to keep that promise and as a result of that Mr. Gilharry has suffered losses. So that is what is referred to as frustration of legitimate expectation. What the court has done is that the court has ordered the government to pay cost to Mr. Gilharry on what is called indemnity basis. It is not something that the court would do normally, cost is usually ordered to be on standard basis, now it is ordered to be on indemnity basis. Cost is ordered in those circumstances on indemnity basis is the court's way of showing disapproval of the conduct in this case of the government or considered that the conduct of the government was abuse of power. So the government is expected to pay cost on indemnity basis from Supreme Court all the way to CCJ but the court has also gone forward that - ordered the government immediately to pay 40,000 dollars towards the cost of Mr. Gilharry. The court unfortunately refused Mr. Gilharry's request that the matter be sent back to the Supreme Court so that the lost he has suffered over the years to be assessed. The position of the CCJ is that the evidence in his application in this case is not sufficient for that to send it back. I propose that given the judgement will open some communication with the government to see what assistance or hand that can be extended to Mr. Gilharry in view of the huge and tremendous loss he has suffered, so this is what happened this morning."
That $40,000 that the Ministry of Transport is to pay Gillharry is an indemnity charge. It's the CCJ showing its dissatisfaction with the way a governmental organization unfairly refused to honor an agreement made with a citizen. The Court did not however, order that damages are to be paid to Gilharry, despite him being unable to operate his bus company these last 6 years. Lumor says that he intends to enter into negotiations with the government to see if he can get them to make up some of money Gilharry has lost.
Last night we told you the 39th Cnetral American Port Forum. It is being hosted in Belize and the 80 delegates from 8 countries are discussing a number of topics. One of those topics is about the role of women in the port sector. Now there is some level of involvement of women â€“ the Commisioner of Ports is a female as well as the CEO of Ministry of Transport is a female. But the Commisioner says more has to be done to get more women on board.
Merlene Bailey Martinez - Commissioner of Ports There had to be specific activities to increase the role of women or to include women in maritime activities generally."
Courtney Weatherburne: "When you say maritime activities what positions or posts are you specifically talking about?"
Merlene Bailey Martinez "The sky is the limit; you are talking from a captain, to an engineer, to a communications manager, to a cook to a deck hand. So whatever is there to be done in the maritime world, women are capable of doing it. At the Port Authority if I can use that as an example we have entry level people who are sea farers who are women who are on the boats who are captains and we also have at the board level who are women. Comparatively speaking we are okay but it still just like 23% of the persons who are engaged in the sector are women."
Courntey Weatherburne "How do you all plan on encouraging more women to be a part of it?"
Merlene Bailey Martinez "Well Belize is part of the Caribbean Association, the Women in Maritime Association Caribbean and that Association's primary goal is to spread the word and encourage the participation of women in the maritime sector generally."
Canadian airline Westjet has announced a new flight to Belize. After the success of its twice weekly seasonal flight from Toronto, the discount carrier has now announced a new flight from Calgary, Canada. It's a non-stop once weekly seasonal service which started on November 3rd, 2017.
The price for a one way ticket is estimated at 279 Canadian Dollars.
Six months ago, she was accused of committing an aggravated assault with a firearm upon her husband by allegedly pulling his own gun and pointing it at him, but yesterday Asako Solis was declared a free woman.
Her husband Elvis Solis says he must look at the bigger picture so he chose not to continue with case against his estranged wife.
Solis's trial began about three weeks ago before Senior Magistrate, but yesterday her husband told Senior Magistrate, Sharon Fraser that he cannot take the risk of her going to jail and the children will be without their mother.
Solis was facing jail time if she was convicted of aggravated assault with a firearm.
This evening the IDB held a panel discussion titled "Partners in Sustainable Development". The panel, which was comprised of experts in various different fields ranging from environmental research to economic development, discussed the challenges Belize faces when it comes to sustainable growth, and how the IDB can be used to help Belize overcome those obstacles. IDB's Executive Vice President, Julie Katzman, told us more...
The discussion was also held in honor of the 25th anniversary of Belize's membership in the IDB.
Last night you heard the Prime Minister and the PUP's shadow Minister of Agriculture comment on the current impasse between ASR/BSI and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. The PM says the parties have to work it out, while the opposition says the Government has to do its part as regulator. Today, Orange Walk East Representative Elodio Aragon - who has many cane farmers in his constituency - took the PM's line, he says both sides have to sit down:â€¦
Hon. Elodio Aragon - Minister of State, Home Affairs "The cane farmers have to work these things out. Definitely they have to work it out with ASR. You must understand ASR is willing to invest a lot more money on this and these things have to be worked out and the best people to work these things out are the cane farmers and ASR. I do believe there are sitting down to look at these things, I think two of the 3 associations have signed on and it's only a matter for the other one but I do think that they need to work their own stuff out and to look at where it goes, I don't think it's for the government to get involved in everything and I'm hopeful that we move forward, these investments are important, ASR is here. The industry is important to this country especially to the people in the north so definitely I am hopeful that things will work out and the sugar industry will continue to be a vibrant industry."
A Difference Over Two Dollars Per Tonne
And one of the four major issues that's keeping the Cane Farmers Association away from the table is the two dollars per ton that BSI is proposing to pay for direct consumption sugar. That's the higher grade product which BSI wants to produce and export to the Caribbean - but it will have to first invest 22 million dollars to upgrade the plant.
And for that it wants a long term agreement from farmers. But the BSCFA is asking how did they arrive at two dollars per tonne. The PUP's Jose Mai - who is himself a cane farmer - explained their concern:..
Jose Abelardo Mai - PUP, OW South Representative "We need to look at how is it that ASR came up with this 2 dollars, how is it? I have not seen the numbers yet and I think they have not shown the numbers yet but that is a very interesting question and something that farmers ought to ask. They ought to inquire how is it that you came up with 2 dollars; why not 3 dollars? Why not 5 dollars? Why not 1 dollar and this is where the company has not been very clear and very transparent and say guys this how we came up with 2 dollars."
Reporter "Would you be able to talk to us about how is that the company was able to come up with this particular amount of 2 dollars more per ton of sugar?"
Celestino Ruiz - VP, ASR Group "It's just the way the calculation came up. It's the added revenue that comes from this sugar, come up through the 65/35 formula and came up with the 2 dollars extra."
GSU, Missing Money or Innocent Inquiry?
And while that's two dollar per tonne - what about the $60,000 in intelligence gathering money that was supposed to have been unaccounted for at the GSU? We've seen a letter from the CEO in the Ministry of Home Affairs expressing concerns about how that fund is used. Today the Minister said its much ado about nothing:â€¦
Hon. Elodio Aragon - Minister of State, Home Affairs "There's no investigation going in any kind of misappropriation of funds that is where the ministry of home affairs was asking about the information funds. An information fund is used specifically to gather information. What we can tell you is that there's no investigation on that part to say about misappropriation and it is only to know and for accountability purposes for the department to know that these monies were used."
Minister Disagrees That He Agrees With Health Stats
We also asked Aragon about statistics from the Ministry of Health which show that homicide is the second leading cause of death in the Belize District for the first half of 2017. He said he disagrees, when really he agrees:â€¦
Hon. Elodio Aragon - Minister of State, Home Affairs "In terms of that information, I nearly want to think the opposite. I nearly want to think that non-communicable diseases are the leading cause of death in this country. Because murders, we only have about, what? Right now we only have about seventy-odd for this year so far. But I'm thinking that, it might be the opposite. But like I said you know in terms of the murder situation, the police department the government understands the situation and we are working towards getting these things done, these things didn't come about in one year that we are seeing this. It's been here for a while, and it got here over time, and it will take us some time to look at it."
Bandits For CONCACAF
The Belmopan Bandits Football Club will make its first appearance in the 2017-2018 CONCACAF Champion's League. That's after qualifying for the tournament as 2016 opening Champion, and the 2017 Closing Champion of the Premier League of Belize. They are going up against Nicaragua in their first match, and they will seek to undo the embarrassment that the Belizean football clubs have been put through in the last 2 tournaments.
That's no easy feat, since they are a semi-pro league, while the other clubs from the other countries are professional football clubs. Nevertheless, the Bandits feel that they are up to the challenge, and today, the management introduced the team to the nation in a press conference. 7News was there, and here's what the principals of the football club had to say:
The Bandits compete against the Nicaraguan champion on August 3, and that match will take place in Nicaragua. They will play the return match at the Isidoro Beaton Stadium in Belmopan on August 10.