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Auditor General reports stir attacks in the House of Representatives

The two reports from the Auditor General that have made headlines in the last two days were tabled this morning at the House of Representatives meeting in Belmopan.  The reports include findings and interviews conducted with relevant persons at the National Sports Council and the Julian Cho Technical High School.

The two reports from the Auditor General that have made headlines in the last two days were tabled this morning at the House of Representatives meeting in Belmopan.  The reports include findings and interviews conducted with relevant persons at the National Sports Council and the Julian Cho Technical High School.  We will have the details of those reports later in this newscast but sticking to the tabling of the reports, Prime Minister Dean Barrow began the exchange when he committed to have the reports handed over to the Police Commissioner for criminal action where possible.

Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “While these papers are only being laid and there is no debate I do want to say something in respect particularly of the report of the Auditor General regarding the audit of the National Sports Council. Just to repeat what I said in my press conference, that audit report needs to go to the Commissioner of Police who I expect will consult with the Director of Public Prosecutions and I would imagine that action by way of criminal prosecutions will take place in the instances where the authorities, the Commissioner and the DPP decide that the material sustains criminal prosecutions. There is one other matter concerning the then Deputy Minister of Sports. Again the report will go to the Public Accounts Committee but I do want to say that to the extent that there is an allegation of, as it seems to me, a violation of ethics conflict of interest, since that deputy minister is not any longer in government as a minister but is the Consul General of Belize in New York he will certainly have to meet with me and offer me as natural justice requires his explanation with respect to what the Auditor General says and I simply want to assure this house that I will act on the basis of what is in that report.”

There is no debate scheduled for the reports among the Parliamentarians in today’s house meeting.  That, however, did not stop the Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno to proffer a response to the Prime Minister.

Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “I know we can’t talk on these bills but I just want to make a point and I’m imploring to you as the Speaker that we have the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee has reported to me that the 2012-2013 Auditor General’s report that has been submitted probably two years ago to the Public Accounts Committee is just stuck there and he has submitted a report to the PAC but the members from the government’s side who are the majority refuse to act on that report, refuse to do anything with it so it is stuck there and we can’t bring it back so we can talk or we can have a debate on  that report. It’s ironic that two of the members are individuals who want to lead the UDP after the Prime Minister retires so I am pleading to you to instruct them that probably the next house meeting that that report should be brought back. Secondly, whilst I understand and heard keenly to the Prime Minister about the report from the Auditor General on the Sports Council I was hoping that he would say the same thing about Dr.Simeon Coc from Julian Cho who is running from the UDP in Toledo West.”

House Speaker: Honorable leader the issue cannot-.

Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: “I’m not arguing sir you I just point out but can you please instruct them to bring back the report ? Thank you sir.”

The National Sports Council does fall under the Deputy Prime Minister’s portfolio.  He sits on the Public Accounts Committee and so does Minister John Saldivar.  Recent years have seen the committee Chairman, Julius Espat complaining about the lack of cooperation from both Faber and Saldivar.  Faber rose in this morning’s meeting to explain why there has been no movement on the last Auditor General Report which still lies before the Public Accounts Committee.

Hon. Patrick Faber, Deputy Prime Minister of Belize: “Mr.Speaker the matter of the report from the Chairman has been brought to the Public Accounts Committee, in fact that report Mr.Speaker is not being stifled by the membership of the committee, in fact that report would have to be brought back to this house as a minority report simply because the members of the committee, the majority members of the committee, do not agree with the report. You see the Chairman ran away put his own thing in the report and disregarded the viewpoints of the members of the committee and so Mr.Speaker hat we said to him was that we would generate a majority report and Mr.Speaker that is what is outstanding and if that is the complaint I agree with that and we need to get that finished so that what will be reported to the honorable house, whenever it comes Mr.Speaker, is his minority report which he came up with all on his own in my view not even the other members of the opposition participated in that, and we will have a majority report when it is brought back to this honorable house. “

As we noted earlier there should be no debate today on the reports as they are merely being tabled for review.  But the matter took on a life of its own when Julius Espat rose to call Faber a liar and to give his version of the truth.

House Speaker: “Okay let’s put this issue behind us, we cannot get into a back and forth.”

Julius Espat, PUP Area Representative, Cayo South: “It’s a sad situation when the Deputy Prime Minister of this house has the gall to stand up here and lie to this nation. I am telling you -“

House Speaker: “Member we will not get into a back and forth on this issue -”

Julius Espat, PUP Area Representative, Cayo South: “Mr.Speaker if you gave him an opportunity to speak as the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee I can also give my point of view. Clarifications Mr.Speaker. Clarification, and you can look at the minutes of the meeting, it was agreed by all members of the Public Accounts Committee that the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee would present a report to the committee. I have it in writing Mr.Speaker. That report was presented to the committee on September 2018. Since then Mr.Speaker, since then they have done everything possible under the light of day, everything possible to not respond back to the queries that we have or the proposal that was given so what he’s saying that I came up with a report only on my own it was done based on an agreement of all. But irrespective of what everybody is saying the fact is that the 2012 report is still on the committee’s desk of the members of government and they refuse to give a report. You know why they refuse Mr. Speaker? They refuse because it’s damning of the same ministries that they represent. “

House Speaker: “Member for Cayo South your point is taken, let’s continue.” 

As we noted in a previous newscast, the audit of the National Sports Council was requested by the Minister of Sports, Patrick Faber.  The media interviewed him today on the reports; but before we share that with you, we can tell you that the National Sports Council also issued a response, specifically, the current Director, Ian Jones.  Jones responded with an 85-page report that outlines all the steps that have been taken since they were made aware of the discrepancies in the systems.  Part of the report notes, quote,“Prior to the completion of the Auditor General’s report on the National Sports Council for the said period, the Director made a prior assessment of the organizational of the National Sports Council, including the accounts department. Several recommendations were made including (1) Creation of a Financial Responsibilities and Procedures Handbook (2) Establishing of a Post for Human Resource Manager (3) Proper staffing of the Accounts Department, including a competent senior accounts Clerk, a Jr. Accounts Clerk, and a marketing and salesclerk (4) Establishment of a proper QuickBooks System which included a legitimate copy of QuickBooks as well as a protocol for backup and recovery procedures (5) Separation of duties in reference to the accounts department AND (6) Adopting of a maintenance policy.”  End of quote.  Love News understands that the National Sports Council had reported the matter a few months ago to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) who are currently investigating the matter.