Former Minister Hugo Patt Returns to Senate Inquiry, Dodges Questions Again

Former Minister Hugo Patt Returns to Senate Inquiry, Dodges Questions Again

Former Minister of Lands, Hugo Patt, appeared again before the Special Select Senate Committee this morning in Belmopan.  Patt was accompanied by his attorney who just happens to be Belize’s former Prime Minister, Senior Counsel Dean Barrow.  In similar fashion, as the last hearing on February 14, Patt was reluctant to respond to several questions pertaining to the Portico fiasco and the Definitive Agreement.  

Senator Kevin Herrera: “Is it normal for applications to come in under the name of companies or these would normally come in as name of individuals ?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “At the time applications did come in the name of individuals and there were instances as well where companies had applied.”

Senator Kevin Herrera: “Would you recall whether or not Portico had applied for lands under it’s own name ?”

SC Dean Barrow, Attorney: “Madam Chair. Certainly the general questions that the Senator has asked I understand and tell him my client does as the need for him to try to be helpful but I must reiterate that once the questions become specific regarding Portico and any applications made in the name of Portico for lands I think that’s outside of the scope of the terms of reference and so I would advise my client not to answer.”

Senator Isabel Bennett Moody: “Did you as the Minister of Lands ascertain any land during your tenure ?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “What was the question ?”

Senator Isabel Bennett Moody: “Did you as the Minister of Lands ascertain any land during your tenure ?”

SC Dean Barrow, Attorney: “What does ascertain mean in this context ?”

Senator Isabel Bennett Moody: “Obtain.”

SC Dean Barrow, Attorney: “Oh obtain. But again Madam Chair what does that have to do with the term of reference of the committee ? There was I think some inquiry into the Ministry of Lands and perhaps these questions were asked then but how on earth would that come within the compass of this committee’s terms of reference ?” 

Janelle Chanona, Chair: “As we’ve agreed to you can decline to answer the question.”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Upon the advice of our attorney I don’t see the relevance of that question and so with due respect Madam Senator I will exercise my right as a witness to decline that question.”

Senator Isabel Bennett Moody: “Okay. Thank you. Having national concern for what we’re investigating at this juncture at the level of the Senate do you as a Belizean have concern for the Portico definitive agreement ?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Look all I can say at this point in time is what I said the last time I was here. I am here to as best as possible to assist the committee in answering questions that are relevant to the subject matter. In the case of Portico as I said all I can tell you is that I have absolutely no knowledge as to that definitive agreement that was signed and all that I’ve heard is what has been said over the news. That is as much as I can say Madam Senator.”

Senator Isabel Bennett Moody: “So based on all that you have heard in the media do you have any concern as a Belizean ?”

SC Dean Barrow, Attorney: “Please. I understand you’ve said your senators can ask any questions and you clearly are correct but should not the senators try to focus their questions so that what is pursued is the objective set out in the terms of reference ? What Mr.Patt’s personal position on Portico -”

Janelle Chanona, Chair: “Yes and you can advise him accordingly. Thank you counsel. Mr.Patt can you proceed to either answer or decline to answer the question ? Thank you.”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I don’t see the relevance of that question to either the motion or the terms of reference and so I will with much respect decline to answer.”

Senator Bevinton Cal took his line of questioning to another angle, specifically, on the systems that existed at the time in the Lands Department.  One particular question was somewhat satirical, as Senator Cal asked about the hot bed of corruption that Senior Counsel Dean Barrow had conceded to when he was Prime Minister back in 2013.

Bevinton Cal, PUP Senator: “For context again so you’re saying when you’re appointed the Minister of Natural Resources you went in there and then also saying that you trusted all the processes and the staff that looked over all of these applications ?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Those processes were in place from time I could tell you that the system that is there at the IT was introduced in 2007 and that system has had some improvements within the structure and there has been no major modification to the system that is in place.”

Bevinton Cal, PUP Senator: “And you trusted that process ?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: Yes we’ve all done.”

Bevinton Cal, PUP Senator: “Even after the former Prime Minister saying that the Lands Department was a hotbed of corruption you still trust that process ?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Madam -“

Bevinton Cal, PUP Senator: “It’s just for context.”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I don’t think to that end. It’s not relevant to the terms of reference or the motion so with due respect -“

Bevinton Cal, PUP Senator: “You have a right to decline. Mr.Patt what are the requirements in your opinion or at least the processes when companies apply for parcels of land ?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “As I had said Senator there were requirements in place so that, there were officers who were assigned to take applications and upon taking those applications ensure that those applications met the requirements. So whosoever applied I could not readily tell you what it is that was required. There were very capable people in place to make sure that those applications that were processed were those applications that actually met the requirements.”

Bevinton Cal, PUP Senator: “I will not name any specific port but as you are aware cruise tourism in Belize has been growing over the years and for them to operate they either need seabed or land for them to operate. At what point does your ministry get involved in any cruise tourism project ?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I do not see the relevance of your question Senator and with due respect I will exercise my right as a witness to decline to answer. Thank you.”

Bevinton Cal, PUP Senator: “When you were Minister of Lands was there any vetting of lands approval to persons as it relates to particular types of lands for example islands, riverfront, large tracts of land and also in key tourism areas. Is there any vetting process?”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “I don’t know how best I could explain to you Senator. I cannot speak any other language than English and Spanish. I wish I could speak Mayan and probably better express myself in another language that would be easier for me to explain. There was a process in place that needed to be followed for every application and so that process had  to be met. Other than that those applications would have been rejected.”

Bevinton Cal, PUP Senator: “I’m trying to understand the process Minister Patt.”

Hugo Patt, Former Minister of Natural Resources: “Senator as I said I was not the type of person that micromanged and so I was not there to supervise people at every stage of the way.”

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