Belize PM Has Advice For Americans: Change Your Form Of Government

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Belize Prime Minister and wife Kim leave Madeo restaurant at Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.

Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow is making headlines in California where he is on a tour with his wife Kim raising money from Belizean-Americans and seeking medical attention for back problems. TMZ (Ten Mile Zone) reports that quizzed on what is wrong with the U.S. government and the shutdown, Mr. Barrow quipped back that America should consider changing its form of government.

The leader of the tiny and impovershed nation of Belize, a former British colony in Central America popular with SCUBA divers, was leaving the swanky Beverly Hills restaurant Madeo surrounded by U.S. Secret Service bodyguards. Reporters asked him if he had any advice for the U.S. government to avoid another shutdown.

His response  “You have to switch to the parliamentary system.”

Now Belize has a system like many former British colonies with no president and power concentrated almost exclusively in the hands of an all-powerful cabinet. Jamaica, India and Zimbabwe are examples of parliamentary system governments.

Comments on Mr. Barrow’s faux pas range from outrage and admonitions that the ruler of a tiny patch of jungle should not be giving governance advice to the U.S., to defensive comments from Belizeans residing in the U.S. saying the prime minister was simply joking.

The TMZ categorised the PM’s comments as International Smack Talk.

Belize Prime Minister Throws Immigration Minister Under The Bus

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Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow at press conference today.

Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow has done a volt-face and asked area representative and former immigration minister Elvin Penner to resign from his United Democratic Party citing “multiple instances” of immigration and passport irregularities.

Mr. Barrow summoned the media to a press conference in Belmopan today after the long Columbus Day weekend to announce that he now wanted nothing  more to do with Hon. Elvin Penner. He said he had called Penner by telephone this morning in Guatemala City to ask for Penner’s resignation from the UDP. Mr. Penner who is seeking medical attention in Guatemala has not taken a decision, according to Mr. Barrow. But Mr. Barrow said that he hopes Penner takes a decision by tomorrow afternoon, before he, Mr. Barrow, departs for a trip to the U.S. to socialize with Belizean-American UDP supporters in the Los Angeles area, and also seek medical care for a back problem.

Mr. Penner was fired from the cabinet on 19 September after a scandal in Taiwan involving a fraudulent Belize nationality certificate and passport issued to accused South Korean swindler Kim Wong Hong. Citizen Kim a he is referred to in Belize, was in a Taiwanese prison awaiting extradition to South Korea. Kim Won Hong, has been accused by SK Group Chairman Chey Tae-won of being the main culprit behind a massive embezzlement scheme. According to reports in the Belize media, another Belizean politician, the Deputy Mayor of Belize City Eric Chang, a member of Mr. Barrow’s United Democratic Party, is wanted in Belize for questioning in connection with the Kim Wong Hong scandal. Mr. Chang who was in Taiwan when the scandal broke, has so far refused to return to Belize.

After firing Mr. Penner from the cabinet,, Mr. Barrow said his government would stand steadfastly behind Mr. Penner as an area representative, who he said, deserved a second chance. But civil society in Belize, and the opposition People’s United Party have started a petition drive to trigger the recall mechanism in Belize’s electoral laws, to have Mr. Penner removed from the House of Representatives. This has been opposed by Mr. Barrow and his party who it is believed fear a bye-election that could destabilize the government that has a slim two seat majority in parliament.

Mr. Barrow and his troops have just ended a four-day campaign in the Cayo North East constituency aimed at encouraging voters to not sign the petition drive to remove Penner from parliament. In one of his stump speeches this weekend Mr. Barrow said that Penner has been punished enough by being removed from cabinet, and there was nothing much to be gained by removing Penner from parliament. But poor public response and revelations last week by activist attorney Arthur Saldivar who got his hands on some 150 documents showing additional irregularities of suspect nationality certificates and passports, may have forced the Prime Minister to flip-flop and abandon Mr. Penner.

Added to the Kim Wong Hong scandal, are revelations that Belizean travel visas are being trafficked to Taiwanese, Chinese and Middle Eastern residents for U.S. $5,000. each. Speaking at a press conference on 10th October, Prime Minister Dean Barrow admitted that a “visa hustle” was taking place and this could bring down his government: “But if there is one thing that can and would bring down this government it is hustling at Immigration. I have heard that ministers are procuring visas for people. I’ve said pretty much in every second Cabinet meeting, if you are doing so for God sakes stop it! Stop it! That is what would cause the government to fall.”

Under Belize’s constitution, an area representative can only be removed from parliament if he voluntarily resigns from his party, or if he “crosses the floor” to join another political party. If Mr. Penner refuses to resign Mr. Barrow can expel him from the party but that will not affect Mr. Penner’s seat in parliament.

The Prime Minister’s press conference this morning was closely followed by a press conference by the opposition People’s United Party where the Belize PM was lambasted as doing too little too late to resolve the passport and visa scandal. Party leader Hon. Francis Fonseca said Mr. Barrow was responsible for the national disgrace brought unto the country by first appointing Penner to the immigration ministry, and thereafter protecting the minister even after case after case of illegal passports issued came to light. “It took the Prime Minister 26 days to decide to distance himself from a minister who everyone else in Belize but the Prime Minister knew was corrupt.” Mr. Fonseca called on the government to allow a Senate inquiry to be conducted to examine all suspect cases of illegal passports and the trafficking of Belize travel visas issued under the United Democratic Party since it took office in 2008.

Belize And Guatemala Electoral Bodies Promote Bilateral Cooperation

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Mrs. Maria Eugenia Villagran de Leon President of the Supreme Electoral
Tribunal of Guatemala, Mrs. Josephine Tamai Chief Elections Officer of
Belize, Bernard Pitts President Elections and Boundaries Commission Belize.

The electoral authorities of Belize and Guatemala met today in Belize under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS) to exchange information,experiences and best practices in electoral management, according to an OAS press release.

The meeting sought to identify areas for inter-institutional collaboration; and further learn about the norms and processes in each country to conduct referendums.

Guatemala´s delegation was headed by the President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, María Eugenia Villagrán de León, and Mr. Bernard Pitts, President of the Elections and Boundaries Commission, led the Belizean delegation.

The meeting at San Ignacio in western Belize took place within the framework of the new confidence-building measures that both countries adopted last May with a view to improving the conditions necessary to establish a new date to hold the simultaneous referenda, which will determine if the territorial and insular dispute between both countries is submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement.

This encounter, was held on the symbolic date of October 6 – the date previously established for holding the referenda, but which was cancelled over objections from Guatemala following changes Belize made to its referendum law. Local observers believe today’s meeting was part of an exercise aimed at persuading Guatemala and Belize to take steps at reviving the proposed referendum.

Britain Urges Guatemala, Belize To Resume Territorial Dispute Talks

The United Kingdom yesterday urged the Governments of Guatemala and Belize to set a new date for the simultaneous referendum, in which the citizens of both countries would vote in favor of taking the territorial, maritime and islands dispute between the two countries, to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
David McNaught, Chargé d’affaires of the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Guatemala, told the Guatemala newspaper, Prensa Libre, that “We are disappointed that the referendum in both countries was postponed and will not now take place on 6 October, as it had been agreed to by the Governments of Guatemala and Belize. We urge that both Governments agree as soon as possible, on a new date so that the referendum can go forward.”
Guatemala decided in April to suspend the referendum on the grounds that that the rules are not equitable in both countries. Belize amended its laws raising the bar for the success of a referendum. Under the new law, referendums now require that a minimum of 60 per cent of registered voters take part. The law was amended by Belize’s United Democratic Party government shortly after taking office in 2008. The amendment makes it very difficult for referendum backed actions, such as the recall of elected politicians, to be successful. The sought-after ICJ Referendum has now become collateral damage of this amendment.
Both countries agreed to work the confidence-building measures.

Belize PM Independence Day Speech: More Projects, Spending, Warning To Churches

Belize today celebrates the 32nd anniversary of independence from Britain with parades, speeches, merrymaking and promises of more development from the ruling United Democratic Party government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

Addressing a small gathering at Independence Hill in the City of Belmopan this morning attended by visiting Dominica leader Roosevelt Skerrit and other dignitaries, Mr. Barrow announced a list of forthcoming projects that he said signals, “The creation of a post-Independence golden age”, adding that “Foreign Direct Investment continues to pour into our country”.

Mr. Barrow’s message of good tidings, which he described as “A infrastructure splurge that will lift the economy and give it wings in this second half of the year”, includes:

A package of some $100 million in sporting and infrastructure facilities funded in part with loans from Venezuela. These include two new bridges over the Belize River in Belize City, an Olympic size swimming pool for the public, a new bus station for Belize City, and a new building in Belize City to house the headquarters for the recently launched government national bank.

Three new military outposts for the Belize Defense Force will be built on the Belize-Guatemala adjacency zone to counter immigration and encroachments from neighboring Guatemala with which Belize has a territorial dispute.

Mr. Barrow also announced that the American Sugar Refining Company is expanding the capacity of the former Belize Sugar Industries mill in northern Belize to grind 10 thousand tons of cane per day as early as the next crop year, which starts in two months.

On the tourism front, he stated that the industry is growing at 8% over last year, and the introduction of mass tourism in southern Belize by Norwegian Cruise Line will bring hundreds of new jobs to the area and promote overnight tourism.

Mr. Barrow ended his address on a rather stern note, giving a warning to the churches and other activist groups in Belize that have so far vigorously opposed his administration’s efforts to promote homosexual rights. Speaking in front of the country’s Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin who is due to deliver a landmark ruling very shortly on the constitutionality of Belize’s sodomy laws, Mr. Barrow declared:

“We cannot afford for Government and the Churches to be at odds. Government will therefore fully respect the right of the churches to propagate their understanding of the morality, or immorality, of homosexuality. But what Government cannot do is to shirk its duty to ensure that all citizens, without exception, enjoy the full protection of the law. After all, the Belize Constitution that affirms the supremacy of God also affirms fundamental rights and the dignity of the individual human being.

“That same Constitution further declares that all persons are equal before the law and entitled to non discrimination; to freedom from interference with their privacy; and to freedom from unlawful attacks on their honour and reputation.

“There is, I submit, no logical inconsistency between these different tenets of our Constitution.”

Belize Gov Fires Junior Minister of Immigration and Nationality Elvin Penner

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Belize Minister of State Elvin Penner.

The junior minister with responsibility for immigration and border security Hon. Elvin Penner has been fired with effect from today a statement issued by the office of the prime minister states. Mr. Penner along with the substantive minister of immigration

Godwin Hulse has responsibility for Belize’s Immigration Department. The department has been plagued by repeated reports of irregularities in the issuance of Belize visas and passports to foreign nationals over the past few years.

Staffers and heads of the immigration departments have been fired and rotated during in past years, but this is the first time a minister with this portfolio has been fired. The irregularities covered by the Belize media over the past few years focused on alleged irregularities over immigration documents for nationals of Africa and Asia. The most recent scandal involved an official from Belize’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who was arrested in Cuba after arriving in that country with several Chinese passports.

The official announcement:

“The Office of the Prime Minister announces that, with immediate effect, the Hon. Elvin Penner is no longer a Minister of State in the current Administration. The Prime Minister formed the view that, with respect to a situation brought to his attention on Tuesday, Hon. Penner, as Minister of State in the Immigration Ministry, did not discharge his responsibilities with either the due judgment and balance, or the scrupulous regard for appearances, which the Prime Minister demands of all his Ministers. As a consequence the Prime Minister late yesterday evening met with Hon. Penner and required him to resign. After discussion Hon. Penner agreed with the position of the Prime Minister. He therefore tendered and had accepted his immediate resignation.

“In a related development, the Office of the Prime Minister also announces that the Immigration Ministry, together with the Ministry of the Public Service, has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the issue of a Belize passport to a South Korean national. The Immigration Ministry will make a statement in the next day or so as to the results of that investigation.”