One hundred and twelve government vehicles were sold for a mere three hundred thousand dollars. These include a 2020 Toyota Tacoma and a 2019 Chevy Colorado. Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck says some acts may have gone against Finance and Reform Act. We’ll tell you about that, and who all benefited from these massive discounts. First we take you to the briefing that the Commission of Inquiry held with the media after its first session. The interviews began at just after nine o’clock this morning with the former Prime Minister Dean Barrow; the Financial Secretary Joseph Waight, and the Head of government’s Assets and Utility Unit, Ruperto Vicente. While one media house stated that there was no smoking gun or explosive revelations in today’s inquiry, Senior Counsel Marshalleck says he feels otherwise.
Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck: “There is concern that there is no single place where there is a list of all the assets government owns and the list of all the values that government considers they’re worth or considers them as being valued in financial statements, that’s the first point and it seems that these asset are worth whatever these officers say they’re worth and there’s no way or no process for verifying or testing any conclusions that they draw. So when Mr.Vicente has his conversation with the Financial Secretary and then he has it with the Prime Minister whatever they say goes and there’s nothing to measure it against, I think that’s as much as we can say about what came out today. We haven’t formed any conclusions. There might be personal dispositions but the commission has come to no conclusions and we do hope to be as impartial as we are able to. As to a smoking gun I don’t know how much more smoke you expect to find. We have a box of information, we’ll now begin the process of probing that information. While we could ask the witness certain things you will appreciate that the information was just disclosed.”
Reporter: That box of documentation that you have what does it entail ?
Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck: “It’s a hundred and twelve files for vehicle sale. The approvals, to who it was sold, for how much it was sold. We’ll leave the conclusions until we’re finished. It is what it is, you’ve seen it, I’ve seen it, we all have our impressions of what was said but we’ll draw conclusions when it’s all over.”
Reporter: We also saw where Mr.Vicente indicated that at no time was the tendering process followed, is this considered a gross dereliction of duty ?
Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck: “You know that’s something that we as a commission will have views on. From my own perspective it’s a breach of the Finance and Audit Reform Act.”
The interviews were done in just over three hours. After conducting interviews for more than three hours today the 3-member Commission of Inquiry met virtually with the media to review today’s findings. The commission didn’t indulge in any premature judgements, but its Chairman did say that in the instance of one vehicle being sold for a mere two hundred dollars will have to looked into.
Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck: “He plainly admitted there were errors which is why I didn’t press it further. The errors seemed to repeat. In terms of the $50 for a motorcycle it depends if it was in parts or pieces, it does seem rather low and that’s why we’ll have to delve into that a little further to see exactly what it is that they’re claiming $50 represents fair value for. The documentation was tendered by the Financial Secretary who came after the Prime Minister and Mr.Vicente’s testimony as to the Prime Minister’s direct involvement in approving all of these sales came after the Financial Secretary. Clearly we’ll have to analyze all the information at the end of the day and decide who, if anybody we need to bring back to put any specific questions to. You have to remember what we’re engaged in is a fact finding inquiry so that we must elicit the fact in public before everybody and then analyze and decide where to go and the whole thing happens right in front of everybody and the cameras so that there’s no investigation outside the room or conclusions being drawn otherwise than in the proceedings themselves. I think once we test the documentation and test the accuracy of the information in them we’ll be able to draw conclusions but I don’t want to draw any conclusion prematurely. At this point in time I think it’s clear that there were errors in the documentation and even the letters signed as approved by the Prime Minister contain these errors. We want to be finished with this as soon as possible so we will press forward until we’re satisfied every week until we’re finished.”
Reporter: And the process of your fact finding you then take it to whom ? What’s the process after that ?
Senior Counsel Andrew Marshalleck: “Well we’ll see where the testimony and the material leads us. Clearly we want to look at some of these transactions and see where that leads us. We’ll be led by the evidence.”
The commission is tentatively set to meet again in about ten days, but according to the Leader of the Opposition, the commission needs to shut down and end what he terms as a, ‘witch hunt’.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Leader of the Opposition: “It is clear that there is nothing in terms of government assets being fire-saled using the term that you brought to me. It is clear that that is not the case and it is clear that if there were any kind of situations that existed from the little that I saw that it was not the UDP’s Prime Minister the Rt. Honorable Dean Barrow that was involved if anything happened at all. In fact you know Mr.Barrow was a very upstanding leader which is why I take great pleasure in coming after him in terms of leading this party, one good leader coming behind another good leader I’m sure you’ll agree with me with that Jules Vasquez. But that is utter nonsense. In fact what was brought out this morning was that in fact the government under the leadership of the Ministry of Finance especially under the leadership of the Prime Minister displayed no such hanky panky and in fact the government is wasting taxpayer dollars in terms of that witch hunt.”
Reporter: The UDP chairman was given the privilege to purchase – I believe the word used “reinforced” furniture, ipad, and laptops, can you comment on this ?
Hon. Patrick Faber, Opposition Leader: “Yes well that is what we are hearing. But I’ll tell you from very early after the elections Chairman Peyrefitte – Senator Peyrefitte- brought to us in the party his documentation showing exactly that the Financial Secretary’s Office had approved him purchasing the couches and some reinforced chairs. You know that the Chairman is a very strong fellow, big fellow and so he had some custom made furniture for his office at the time and his ministry felt that there was no use leaving that behind if he would go he could purchase it and as to the laptop and the ipad as I’m told well you heard the Prime Minister say that he was not aware. Certainly as a senior member of the Cabinet at the time I was not aware but there is nothing wrong with that. When you utilize personal computers or ipads you put your personal information on there sometimes and for those computers to be used again they would have to be wiped clean, you’d have to employ a whole lot of tactics to get them ready again for some other use, in fact I don’t think that that’s a very wise or common practice in terms of personal laptops desktops are a different thing. So I don’t know but I’m not defending any of that but even if that is the case that is one minister. The way the PUPs talk you would have thought that they could not find any vehicles for CEOs and ministers so they had to go spend -how much did they spend ? $20 million to Bowen and Bowen at Belize Estate and all over the place they’re buying vehicles because the UDP took off with all of these vehicles, the ministers just packed up their vehicles and rolled on home. They need to be honest with the Belizean people and people can see through that. Why did that not come up this morning then ? Why did not ten ministers buying their vehicles pop up this morning? Because it’s a lie and it’s all the more reason it is a waste of taxpayers dollars to continue that witch hunt. I would hope that after today they shut up shop and go home.“