During a press conference yesterday Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission, John Avery decided to address media reports of leaked financial documents relating to the Commission. At the start of the year we began reporting on leaked documents which show questionable financial transactions carried out by the Public Utilities Commission, PUC. These include credit card spending up to $70, 000 and up to $50,000 in donations which according to the documents, were not supported by any documents showing approval. Yesterday Avery addressed that issue and the one concerning monies spent on the Raspberry Pi Program.
JOHN AVERY, CHAIRMAN, PUC
“With respect to unapproved donations again that is a simple thing. The PUC does make donations to various worthy causes and to citizens and Belizeans in need. Again under our policy for donations, donations above a certain amount goes to the commission for approval, I as the chairman have authority to approve donations for specific items up to a specific amount. What the auditor was referring to was that he did not find all the donations that were made approved in minutes. However the ones below a certain amount the chairman was given authority to approve on its own rather than take all these donations to the meetings where we were discussing more pressing items. The Raspberry Program that was an error of the auditor based on the information he received; that has been resolved with the auditor. The entire budget for the Raspberry Pi program was in fact approved by the commission and revised over time. That program started in 2015 and in fact continued up until 2017. So it isn’t a one year thing and so that was an error, again that has been fixed by the auditor and that was dealt with appropriately. As far as the item “Credit Card Expenditures” there is no such thing as credit card expenditure in our opinion, credit card is a form of payment. As long as the expense are properly authorized, and they are expenses of the commission whether you pay it cash, cheque, or credit card it’s just a form of payment. In that thing the auditor did question whether or not basically the PUC may want to consider whether or not it needs a credit card any at all and that he withdrew that recommendation within two minutes of talking with him. These days all these licenses, software, all these updates that we have to pay for they can only be done online and they have to be done with a credit card.”
Avery explained the PUC’s decision to buy a piece of land in Belize City.
JOHN AVERY, CHAIRMAN, PUC
“Every other option was well above $100,000 per acre. In fact there was two lots 100×100 right here on the Northern Highway that someone offered to sell to us they wanted $150,000 for a 100×100 foot piece of land; both pieces. We purchased that piece of land and with respect to the filling we decided that we wanted the land to be five feet above the high tide level so that when a hurricane comes so that when you have a tsunami scare like the other day the building and investment is protected. Now with regard to the – remember it’s 13.5 acres we have there – that land as far as we are concerned we are going to use a piece of it to build our property that is an investment for the people of Belize. 13.5 acres within two miles of downtown and when we reviewed that land in April when we purchased that land we walked the entire length of that property. Other properties that we were considering you couldn’t even make 20 feet you were under water even during the dry season and people may have a lot to say; I want somebody to show me where you can get land that close to Belize for less than $63,000 an acre.”
During the press conference Avery presented the media with a finalized copy of the PUC’s financial statements. Much of what was pointed out in the leaked documents had been resolved.