The opposition party (PUP) called a press conference a few hours prior to that of the Prime Minister’s. The media was in full force at the Charter house this morning where the Opposition Leader, John Briceno called on the Prime Minister to fire the ministers who are involved.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader, People’s United Party: “We have all watched and listened with amazement as you all broke the news that two UDP Ministers are being accused of taking bribes from someone who can best be described as an Armenian criminal. Belizeans have seen the evidence that Lev Dermen received Belizean Nationality under questionable circumstances. You the press have reported that two UDP Ministers went to Cabinet to recommend that Dermen be made a diplomat and we have heard the reports that the US government intervened to stop this man ,who can only be considered a criminal, from being appointed as a high ranking Belizean diplomat carrying diplomatic credentials gifted to him by this government. If such a recommendation was indeed made, and I believe it was, then the Prime Minister knows who made them. He would also know who allegedly received those bribes. I’m therefore calling on the Prime Minister to disclose the identity of the two UDP Minister who have been associated with Lev Dermen and I call on the two UDP Ministers in question to immediately step down. Because I have no confidence that these individuals have the integrity to do the right thing. I call on the Prime Minister to immediately fire them from his Cabinet, I call on the relevant authorities free from UDP interference to commence an investigation into the finances of these two ministers with a view to criminal prosecution. This must be done now; there is enough to warrant it. The Prime Minister’s usual spiel of legal guilt as opposed to factual guilt used in the Elvin Penner Immigration Scandal will not be tolerated. Yesterday the Prime Minister did not say he did not know about this, what he said was and I am quoting him here “The documents called no names and appeared to be a preliminary description of evidence to be led when a trial starts.” I believe he is aware of who these ministers are, therefore he must act now;too much corruption has been allowed under this UDP administration, we cannot allow it to continue under this or any administration to come. It is time to send a strong message, it is time to do away once and for all with politics as usual. Corruption affects all of us, every single one of us and it must come to a stop now.”
Prime Minister responded to Briceno’s call, referring to it as ridiculous.
Rt.Hon.Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “I say, sort of by the by, the Leader of the Opposition in his usual fashion, and I won’t bother to describe in detail what the fashion is, says that I must know who the minister and official are and I must remove them. Well I wish he’d tell me who they are because I sure as hell don’t know and it appears to me that nobody in this room, nobody in Belize knows who it is, to whom these statements, these allegations refer. But what is clear is that at least one minister of my government and at least one official of my administration both are on the hook, though unnamed, in terms of what the material is alleging. What I want to make clear to the media and to the public, this trial as I understand it is to stat imminently. I don’t know who it is that these allegations are being made against but I imagine that we will soon find out. I can’t, as the Leader of the Opposition would have me do, fire people against whom no allegation is in fact made.”0
According to Briceno, the PUP is gearing up to take action if the Prime Minister does not investigate the matter. Briceno added that the onus is not only on the political parties to rally against corruption, but the responsibility also lies on the unions, NGOs and the private citizens.
Hon. John Briceno, Opposition Leader: We will be talking more on this, there is even more information coming out. We’re going to continue to make sure that all Belizeans are aware of this and we’re going to put the necessary pressure on the government to do what is right. What is important is for us to be able to have enough people outraged about it, it’s not only the political parties but what about the NGOs? What about the NTUCB ? They were leading the charge against the PUP and they have been very quiet since this government has got in, I know a lot of their members have been compromised by the government and though they have been very quiet. The NGO community has to speak out, the Belize Chamber of Commerce again who have always been speaking out against corruption they also have to be something, it has to be a concerted effort, it cannot be seen as just a political issue because when it’s a political issue then it divides us. So we have to be united on this issue that we have to say that we have had enough about tolerating corrupt practices in government and this government has been the worst offender. Ironically the very government that was elected on an anti corruption platform is today considered by far the most corrupt government that we have. We are going to be meeting with the private sector, with the public sector, with the unions, with everybody and that if the government, the Prime Minister refuses to act then we will have to be able to do everything possible within the legal scope of the law to get the government to act.”
There are several other angles that came out of this afternoon’s press conference which we will share with you later in tonight’s newscast.