Former Lands Commissioner Vallejos Appears Before Senate Inquiry

Former Lands Commissioner Vallejos Appears Before Senate Inquiry

Former Lands Commissioner, Wilbert Vallejos, appeared before the Senate Inquiry in the afternoon session.  Vallejos was accompanied by his legal counsel, Senior Counsel Dean Barrow, the former Prime Minister that Vallejos served under.  Before the Senate could get into the question segment, Barrow registered his concerns over how the summons was served, and the failure of the committee to give disclosure on what the questions would be once Vallejos appeared.  All that aside, however, the entire afternoon session was guided by the terms of reference of the Senate Inquiry.  Vallejos, under the guidance of Barrow, was careful not to respond to any questions that was not relevant in the matter at hand.  From the onset, Barrow indicated to the Senators that their responses would be very much measured.

S.C Dean Barrow, Attorney for Wilbert Vallejos: “One such privilege of a witness summoned to appear before a court is that such a witness cannot be asked or if asked cannot be compelled to answer any question that is not relevant to the matter before the court. I listened Madam Chair to the questioning of Mr.Duncan I believe it was this morning. I had a quick look at the evidence that Mr.Talbert Brackett gave and it is clear Mr.Vallejos having been in a previous life the commissioner of lands it is clear that the committee proposes to ask him the sorts of questions that were put to Mr.Duncan and to Mr.Brackett. That is questions about land that the government, his Minister at the time Honorable Patt who is also to be a witness before you, land that the Ministry and perhaps the Minister sold to various individuals and entities at a time I believe that was actually before the signing of the definitive agreement into which you are inquiring. With respect Chair and Senators, I do not see how on earth that line of questioning is encompassed by the motions setting up this committee and by your terms of reference. Let met cut straight to the chase. I wish you to allow me to go through the terms of reference, the motion first of all, some of the recitals and the terms of reference after which I will submit to you that Mr.Vallejos is – I want to frame it carefully – is not obliged to answer any question along those lines that you may want to put. Let me frame it another way. The committee is not authorized, is not entitled to ask the witness any such questions. You are bound by the terms of reference, you must stay clearly within the four corners of those terms of reference and if we go through the recitals, the motion and the terms of reference I believe Madam Chair that you will have to agree with me that questions about land transfers or land sales in an area that as I understand it is within two miles of the locus of the site of the Portico cruise project those questions have nothing to do with the inquiry on which you are embarked.”

As the afternoon session continued, most of the questions from the Senators were regarded as irrelevant.  As a result, the near 3-hours failed to disclose any useful information in the inquiry.  Senior Counsel Barrow was evidently upset, and questioned the importance of the questions posed by Senator Elena Smith.  Senator Kevin Herrera chipped in, attempting to get answers to the 17 land titles that were expedited for one company.

Senator Elena Smith: “Would you say Mr.Vallejos that those twenty two years would make you the longest serving Commissioner of Lands ?”

Wilbert Vallejos, Former Commissioner of Lands: –

Senator Elena Smith:  “Based on your knowledge.”

Wilbert Vallejos, Former Commissioner of Lands: “Yes.”

Senator Elena Smith: “Okay. Well congratulations on that, twenty two years in that position and thank you for that service as well.”

S.C Dean Barrow, Attorney for Wilbert Vallejos“While those questions are innocuous, how are they relevant ?”

Chair: “I think the Senator was just making note of years of service.”

Senator Elena Smith: “We are setting the – Go ahead Madam Chair ?”

Chair: “Go ahead.”

Senator Elena Smith: “Thank you. Mr.Vallejos what were your responsibilities as the Commissioner of Lands if you can maybe just share a few.”

S.C Dean Barrow, Attorney for Wilbert Vallejos: “That’s not relevant.”

Senator Elena Smith: “We ask the questions and then you determine whether you’ll answer them or not but we have to ask the questions.”

Wilbert Vallejos, Former Commissioner of Lands: “I don’t know the relevance of the question.” 

Senator Elena Smith: “Will you answer the question Mr.Vallejos ?”

Wilbert Vallejos, Former Commissioner of Lands: “No.”

Senator Kevin Herrera: “There were seventeen transactions, land transactions that were in relation to the ministry that became free hold title – they all became free hold titles or granted free hold titles on the 4th of November 2020. Could you maybe explain to us why the seventeen titles were granted all for fifty acres each on that particular date? Was there any relationship between the seventeen parcels ?”

Wilbert Vallejos, Former Commissioner of Lands: “Again Senator Herrera the question about the Portico agreement based on your terms of reference I don’t see the relation between that and the question that relate to such agreement.”

Senator Kevin Herrera: “You were Commissioner of Lands for a long time as was mentioned earlier. Is it normal for one company to go in there and get the type of acreage in such a short period of time ? Is it something for example I noticed that these properties were lease hold titles and then there were applications to purchase and then they were purchased there are certain things I wanted to know. For example were any development plans required, were there any purpose submitted to you to get these titles for these properties ? Was that a requirement.”
Wilbert Vallejos, Former Commissioner of Lands: “Senator Herrera your questions keep coming about land. I’m sure you heard Mr.Barrow. The terms of reference is specific about the Portico definitive agreement of which I don’t know anything. You’re asking, your questions you’ve asked so far are about land and as advised by counsel those questions are outside of the parameters of what you in my humble opinion ought to be asking which is the definitive agreement.”

By three thirty this evening, there was no substantive information provided by the former Lands Commissioner.  At closing, Senior Counsel Barrow requested that his other client, the former Lands Minister, Hugo Patt make an appearance.  The Senators agreed, but much to their disappointment, as Patt’s conditions were the same as Vallejos.  

S.C Dean Barrow, Attorney for Wilbert Vallejos: “We had discussed the stance that you were going to adopt today which would have been as Vallejos did to say that he didn’t think – my apologies that consider that the line of questioning which would be about land transactions that the committee sees as being related to Portico came within the terms of reference and so he would exercise his right not to answer on the basis that the questions in his view were not relevant. I explained to him that the committee is prepared to give him, call him on another occasion give him before hand written questions that they would like to have him answer and I asked whether he would consider in those circumstances doing other than Commissioner Vallejos ultimately has done which is to say I refuse to answer these questions because I don’t think they’re relevant. My sense from him is that -“

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Madam Chair I have read the terms of reference and I have taken a look ,I have read it in its entirety and the line of question Madam Speaker as it pertains to the Ministry of Natural Resources it was not part of that terms of reference and so as much as I would be willing to answer and willing to help I will relay my questions specifically to the terms of reference. And so in the absence of any line ministry that has to do with the Ministry of Natural Resources personally I don’t know anything about Portico and so I am here to answer anything about the definitive agreement which I myself don’t know about and so in that context Madam Speaker as much as I can tell you is that I would be willing to answer anything that is related to the terms of reference.”

Chair: “We do respect your right an we reserve ours. If it is that the committee feels it necessary that again you be called forward we hope that you will oblige the committee in doing so.”

Today’s Senate Inquiry concluded just after four o’clock this evening.

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