Former Prime Minister Dean Barrow was the first to be interviewed this morning. After taking an oath on the Bible, Barrow explained that in the normal course of business, the government departments would inform the Vehicle Care Unit on the status of its vehicles, including whether the vehicles were serviceable or not. Thereafter the Financial Secretary would be notified, and then applications to purchase would be received. Barrow, did note that the departments may have been a little bit too eager to sell the assets.
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Former Prime Minister: “Concentrating first on the sale of government vehicles this process resulting in the sale of such vehicles would move from the Vehicle Care Unit and the person in charge who during the period you’re looking at was Mr.Ruperto Vicente to the Financial Secretary thereafter it would come to me. In the normal course again talking initially about vehicles in the normal course government departments and government ministries would write to the Vehicle Care Unit indicating that a particular vehicle had crashed or had for one reason or another become disabled. Now it may be if you will forgive me what is meant to be a lighthearted comment it may have been that in some cases departments and ministries were a little too eager to treat vehicles as unserviceable and to write them off because the corollary to a write off by a ministry or department was that it would require a replacement. In any event Sir that was how this process operated. After a particular vehicle would have been surrendered to the Vehicle Care Unit and in a lot of cases the files I saw when they ultimately came to me would contain pictures of the vehicles to be written off and sold. After the vehicles were deposited on the lot of premises of the Vehicle Care Unit, a lot I have never visited in my life I’m not even sure where it is, the head of the Vehicle Care Unit would certify to the Financial Secretary that we have vehicle x or vehicle y, there’s an application from the particular department or ministry for this to be got rid of for whatever we can obtain for it. The Financial Secretary would then indicate his agreement with the Vehicle Care Unit that in fact in the circumstances trying to dispose of these unserviceable vehicles and trying to get whatever government could in the circumstances was the way to go.”
According to Barrow this process would have already been completed by the time the files reach his desk. He says that when a file reaches him, it is the Head of the Assets and Utilities Management Unit, Ruperto Vicente, who would recommend the best price that government would be able to get on the assets being sold.
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Former Prime Minister: “So Mr.Vicente would write to me through the Financial Secretary to ask for my approval to waive the boarding of these unserviceable vehicles and to agree to the sale of those vehicles. In some cases as I recollect he would indicate that people would be invited to make offers for the vehicles. In other cases the letter would come to me saying that if I agreed already an offer or offers had been received and Mr.Vicente with the approval of the Financial Secretary would recommend to me that a particular offer for the particular vehicle be accepted. Now Mr.Chairman and members part of what was sent to me would be an indication either implicit or explicit that we were not going to do any better than the particular offer or offers received. Vicente would in fact again either explicitly or implicitly certify that we were selling for the best price that we could obtain in the circumstances. I would then note on the letter that came to me from Vicente via the Financial Secretary my approval by way of putting a date and my initials under that date, preceded of course by the words “I approve.”
Representing the unions on the commission is the NTUCB President Luis Martinez who queried Barrow on the issue of short changing the Belizean people by standing by some of the sales of government assets. Barrow was seemingly flustered during a portion of this morning’s session when he rose to defend the sale of a vehicle to Justice Sosa, which was a 2008 Landcruiser for just over ten thousand dollars.
Luis Martinez, NTUCB: “The Financial Secretary or head of the Vehicle Care Unit just cannot sell off these assets and as we go deeper we’ll find out that the procedures were not followed through all the way. The practice, let’s say the practice because the procedures are difficult to find.”
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Former Prime Minister: “Well if there are no procedures then you can say that successive governments ought to have done more to put procedures in place but I must take issue with the way you frame your remarks. You are suggesting that people who were retiring were gifted these vehicles, nobody was gifted anything sir. They were allowed to purchase at the proper value including an element for duty that in fact was submitted to the ministry by the Customs Department it was not a gift sir and I am saying to you that in terms of the outgoing administration we can now only talk about two instances of persons being allowed to purchase their vehicles upon the coming to an end of the life of the last administration; one Justice Sosa I’ve said to you but I will say again remember that he’s paying the book value or the assessed value, the fair market value so it’s not a gift but recollect that in his case he did not take, did not cause government to have to pay for the services of a driver, he did not cause government to have to pay for the services of a police guard, my goodness man I say that anybody who would quarrel without allowing him to purchase at a proper value the vehicle upon his leaving after twenty one years and given the extra mile that he had gone anybody who takes that view is churlish, is mean spirited and I stand four square behind that sir.”
Luis Martinez, NTUCB: “So let’s go to the serviceable equipment that were sold off to the ministers and CEOs who were leaving office and you have said that there were explanation that the incoming ministers and CEOs they would want new equipment and so now you allow a man to take home serviceable furniture- I imagine these furniture are not cheap for we don’t know what’s the amount we’ll get that from the FinSec, the Ipads and the laptop man coronavirus has closed schools down and so why couldn’t we then gift those equipment to the schools ?”
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Former Prime Minister: “Mr.Martinez-“
Meanwhile we wait for the promised equipment that were supposed to come for the schools so you can’t give away the things like that.
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Former Prime Minister: “Mr.Martinez I have told you sir that I had nothing to do with the sale of the laptops except in the one instance of Peyrefitte where it was bundled up together. So listen you reserve – respectfully – you reserve those questions and those comments for the Financial Secretary who freely accepts that he was the one who took it upon himself to allow CEOs to purchase the laptops. And in terms of Peyrefitte, that one exception, I’ve said to you that didn’t start with me I didn’t initiate the process. He spoke to the Financial Secretary but I will not apologize for thinking that again in his case sure he was getting paid, he was doing two jobs he was Attorney General and Minister of National Security but in terms of furniture that had been specially adjusted for him given his dimension again I have to repeat my term it is churlish to say that there is something wrong or something malodorous about allowing the man to purchase what I was told for the most part was furniture that basically was purpose built for him.”
Luis Martinez, NTUCB: “PM that isn’t justifiable.”
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Former Prime Minister: “Well that’s your view sir and when you come to write your report you can say that. As far as I’m concerned it was entirely justifiable.”
Luis Martinez, NTUCB: “It’s not justifiable for the public officers.”
Rt.Hon. Dean Barrow, Former Prime Minister: “Well that’s -“