Ombudsman Reports on Growing Complaints in Belize
Ombudsman Gilbert Suazo issued his first report since taking office in February this year. At the time the report was released, the office had registered some 87 cases up to June 30 this year. To date, however, that number has risen to 110 complaints. The Ombudsman made an appearance on The Morning Show today to speak on the process his office follows when complaints are submitted.
Herman Gilbert Swaso, Ombudsman:“There is one case which you may recall was sent in relation to investigating some alleged corruption and wrongdoing. And that is no secret at all now, since it came out in relation to investigating the prime minister and the minister of state. Throughout our research that is the first complaint of such nature that comes to the office of the Ombudsman. And once a complaint is lodged then the Ombudsman’s office or the Ombudsman is obliged to do the diligence and make response to the complainant.”
Ombudsman explained that reports come from a wide cross section of persons including undocumented migrants as well as those incarcerated at the Belize Central Prison.
Herman Gilbert Swaso, Ombudsman: “We’re very vigilant and we’re visiting the prisons department and several of the inmates were making some complaints in relation to what they believe were issues of injustices by the judicial system. So a lot of it also has to do with the time in remand among other things. Now seemingly it would appear as if a reasonable time for you to await trial under remand is anywhere between two to three years because that seems to be the case. Is that reasonable? Probably not. So those are some of the complaints that we are getting in relation to some of the people who are there. Similarly, there are people who are detained as a result of immigration issues who again are held within the confines of the Kolbe Foundation but there isn’t anything that you can detain….there isn’t a detention center this time in Belize where you can detain people who are awaiting trial, whether for immigration or who have been tried for immigration and those people are of the view that is not the area for them to be held in detention. There is also another area which we have not seen much in relation to disability because people with disability can be abused. People with, whether it’s people who are visually impaired or otherwise, again, they have rights as well but we have not seen those cases as yet.”
Ernesto Vasquez, Host, The Morning Show: A public building not having a ramp is a case.
Herman Gilbert Swaso, Ombudsman: “Yes. So those are issues that will have to be addressed sooner rather than later. But it’s just taking that from a cultural standpoint, from an administrative standpoint, we have to start and make some paradigm shift in relation to the way how we conduct our business.”
Another matter that has been brought multiple times to the Office of the Ombudsman is by retired public officers who seem to have difficulty accessing monies owed to them by the government.
Herman Gilbert Swaso, Ombudsman: “It appears that there are some slippage in the system, in the systematic way of how this business is being conducted because the regulation basically makes, actually stipulates that before one year before you retire then the process for you to get phased out if I may use that term so that at your 55th birthday you should be getting your pension or terminal benefits. That is not necessarily the case for one reason or the other, but that is systematic and it needs to be corrected and corrected as urgently as possible.”