Barrow vs Briceno on Integrity Commission

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Updated: May 16, 2017

Late yesterday evening the People’s United Party issued a statement on the interview given by the Prime Minister relating to the Integrity Commission and the change of having the elected representatives only submit their asset declarations for one year as opposed to the five year period that the commission had initially asked for.  Prime Minister noted that going back five years would have proved difficult and that this was agreed upon by both sides of the House. It seems now that there was no agreement because the opposition party is saying that it was wrong to have the commission retract their request.  Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno dissected the three reasons given by the Prime Minister.

JOHN BRICENO

“As I understand the commission’s arguments are three fold. One they are saying that the law is not very clear, two they are saying that they can’t prosecute and three based on letter that a UDP Minister had a UDP lawyer write to the commission stating that it will be very difficult to get records five years back I think all arguments are weak because if you look at the act section 58 and I wrote down the wording here. Section 58 of the act states that “unless otherwise specified under the provisions of the act a prosecution of any offence or penalties under the act shall be commenced within five years from the date when the cause of the action proceeds.” Basically what it is saying is that the commission, the integrity commission can look up to five years and if they see anything that calls their attention, that looks suspicious or that is questionable then they can pass it on to the DPP for the DPP to decide whether it is going to prosecute or not. The commission does not have the authority to tell representatives not to file, the law is very clear, everybody must file every year. But in this case they can’t go beyond five years for any prosecution so at the very least let us start to file from 2011. We in the PUP have started from 2012 and right up to 2016, some of us have not finished 2016 we are working on that but the point is that we are making available our filling to the integrity commission. On the third point, that is a very weak argument that you don’t have the records to present to the integrity commission. You can go to the bank and the credit union and they are going to give you the records whatever you need for every year because they have that on their records. If you have a business obviously the records are there, if you have land holdings the papers are there so I think that is very weak so I feel strongly the People’s United Party’s position is very clear in that we at the very least need to file from 2011-2016.”

As the release noted, the opposition is consulting their attorneys to see if they can take the matter to the court.

JOHN BRICENO

“What we are doing right now is that we are asking a number of our legal team to take a look and see if there is any way that we can legally challenge the decision of the Integrity Commission and if we can we will challenge that decision because we believe that everyone must file especially the Ministers in Government that are controlling billions of dollars since 2011. The people have every right to know what their holdings are and to explain the wealth that they have acquired since 2008.”

Another point that Briceno contradicts the Prime Minister on was the voting at the meeting by the PUP representative.  He says that he believes the Chair of the Integrity Commission manipulated the meeting schedule to keep Melissa Balderamos from attending.

JOHN BRICENO

“He said that one of our commissioner’s did vote but what he did not say is that the chairlady of the commission went through great lengths not to accommodate one of our commissioners, Ms.Malher, to be at that meeting because the meeting was set and then that date was changed to a date when Ms.Malher couldn’t go, Ms.Malher asked for it to be change to another date and they refused. She asked then that the meeting be held in the afternoon not in the morning and they refused because they deliberately did not want Ms.Malher to be at that meeting because in the first meeting it was Ms.Malher that fought vigorously to convince two other commissioners to take their position for there to be reporting from 2011 because from the beginning the chair was pushing for it to be for one year it is only after that when it is the very same ministers when Minister Finnegan was talking about not making this political well they were the ones that made it political because they were in uproar when they got that letter and as I’ve been told that there was big railing up in the cabinet because ministers are not prepared to file in their report. So they had started to interfere and they made sure that they had another meeting and worked in such a way that unfortunately Ms.Malher could not have been to be able to explain to them legally. Ms.Grinage was of the opinion that we need to file in for five years but when she was there by herself she is not an attorney she is an accountant we wanted to make sure that one of our people is a lawyer and the other one is an accountant so when they are reviewing the records between both of them they could properly review the records of everyone. As she pointed out to me they were continuing arguing to her and saying that legally we did not have the authority so she said okay and that if they were insisting that they didn’t have the legal authority then that is what she agreed to. It does not mean that she does not believe that all representatives especially the ministers must file in from 2011.”

The Belize National Teachers Union, who had pushed for the establishment of an Integrity Commission last year via industrial strike action issued a release on the matter.  The BNTU is rejecting the shift from five years to one year and noted, quote, “We did not request the implementation of a rubber stamp commission but one that would be transparent, accountable, credible and of integrity.  When our common citizens have arrears for any of their obligations, be it income tax, social security, business tax, etc., they are not granted waivers, instead penalties are imposed on them.  We say our elected officials should be treated in like manner.  They are not above the law.”  End of quote.