Almost five months after the helicopter crash that killed four Belize Defence Force soldiers in the Gales Point area, their families have yet to receive the ex-gratia payment they were promised by the government. The Minister of National Security, Michael Peyrefitte stated on July 16 that the money has been paid out; but, family members have reached out to say that this is a blatant lie. According to Audrey Matura, the attorney for the wives of the deceased Corporals Yassir Mendez and Reynaldo Choco, the men had no wills and so the families needed to apply to the court for their letters of administration. This letter was to prove that they are the beneficiaries of the soldiers’ estate; a process that can take up to six months. Matura stated that with covid-19, this time has been lengthened because the applications could not have been filed earlier since the court was only dealing with urgent matters. In view of this delay and the urgent financial needs of the soldiers’ wives, Matura asked Minister Peyrifitte, for an advance, but that request was denied.
Audrey Matura, Attorney at Law: “I’ve submitted for two clients, that takes some time it could take three months, six months. Until they could prove that they are the administrators of the estate we were told they will get no money so it’s good for PR purpose for the government to say that money has been paid out but it has not been paid out. I had even suggested at that same meeting that my clients be given an advance because the truth is these men are the bread winners of most of the homes. At least two of them that I represent they are the main bread winners and it means that the people are going through a hardship but the government said “No”, well the AG specifically said no let them bring their letters of administration that’s when I brought it to his attention that the court is not facilitating those right now. I think they’re playing semantics. The Attorney General is an attorney he knows the intended administrator or administratrix of an estate can deal with the money, can get an advance if that person does not do what should be done under the estate act that person could be taken to court and dealt with. Once the government does it’s part and gives the people their money or their intended administrator the money that’s not their problem any more it’s the problem of the administrator to administer it properly. I don’t know why knowing that he’s very reluctant or absolutely reluctant to give the advance. At the time when I made the request the CEO had said yes but of course the Minister vetoed him. To me it is clear cut in the sense that in the case of both Ms.Choco and Ms.Mendez they were married the Administration of Estate Act says that one third goes to the wife two thirds to the children. In the case of one of them they had no children so half will go to the wife and half will go to the parents if you have surviving parents the law is clear. So it’s not as if they don’t know who are the wives and the parents and who would get it, this is not a contested estate.”
Today, the AG quickly clarified his earlier statement. Rather than admit that he lied, or simply made a mistake, he explained further what he meant when he stated that the money was already given to the families.
Jules Vasquez, 7News: “Would you accept however that you may have spoken too loosely or spoken carelessly when you said last Wednesday-I think we made it very public- each family was given a sort of ex gratia payment of a hundred thousand of something to that effect.
Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “Not at all because it was given to them by the Cabinet and by the Ministry of Finance it was given to them however how can it be loose?”
Jules Vasquez, 7News: I’m saying when you give someone something they have to have it.
Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “Listen to me Jules -”
Jules Vasquez, 7News: You’re talking about they were given an offer?
Michael Peyrefitte, Minister of National Security: “No they were not given an offer. The money was made available to them. It’s not loose because the very next day the money was made available to them it was all a matter of telling them now you need to get your letters of administration and that money will be transferred to whatever account the holder of the letters of administration would provide to us.”
Whether he lied or not, however, is the least of the wives’ problems or concerns. Their husbands were the sole breadwinners in their families, and they are in need of the monies owed to them.
Audrey Matura, Attorney at Law: “I know one of the ladies lives on the BDF camp, I had advised her that eventually they will ask her to move from there because when you’re a spouse of someone in the military you live there because he’s there, the officer has died she does not as a civilian have that entitlement to stay on that place. Someone like her immediately you should give an advance, she clearly needs to move, get a house, her kids are in school and all of that their whole lives are disrupted. The two persons I’m representing the Choco and the Mendez family they’re very humble people, very humble and I know the personal strifes they’re going through apart form dealing with the loss at least one of the families is really crippled economically, it’s been a massive disruption of their life and I would just plead to the BDF, present the advance I’m sure all the families have attorneys by now.”