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Tens of Thousands of Dollars Stolen from the Unemployment Relief Program

One person has been fired, another suspended and under investigation and a third resigned on health grounds and apparently fled the country following a damning audit report of the Unemployment Relief Program. Tonight, the Belize Police Department is actively investigating the findings to bring criminal charges against those who managed to divert tens of thousands of dollars that was supposed to help those who lost their jobs because of the COVID pandemic. Under the Unemployment Relief Program successful applicants got one hundred and fifty dollars for twelve weeks. The Labor Department took over the program from the Social Security Board. It is within the Labor Department that low level corrupt officers managed to divert more than sixty thousand dollars from a single Labor Department Office. CEO in the ministry, Valentino Shal told Love News this evening that a complaint has been made to the police department so the culprits will be dealt with.

Valentino Shal, CEO, Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labor, Local Government: “It is a very serious case. Anything that has to do with the public funds we take extremely seriously and even though this did not occur under our watch we have an obligation and a responsibility to ensure that we safeguard the people’s money and where this is not done, where there is wrongdoing we have to address it directly and according to the Auditor General’s report they have identified just about $62,000 that may have been fraudulently taken from the program. It could be more we don’t know for sure at the moment but according to the report it’s around $62,000 that is under question.”

Reporter: And that report will be forwarded to the office of the Commissioner to see if any criminal charges can be brought against those persons named in that report? 

Valentino Shal, CEO, Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labor, Local Government: “Yes the Auditor General forwarded her report to us to the ministry last month at the beginning of June and as soon as we got the report we reviewed it and we immediately took some immediate actions. We have dismissed one person, we have suspended another and another one has resigned on health reasons and has purportedly left the jurisdiction. In addition to the administrative measures we have taken we have also as the Auditor General recommended reported the matter again to the police as we had done back in November and now the matter is being criminally investigated by the police. And so once they come back with evidence that can hold up in court persons or person will likely be charged criminally for any wrong doing that may have occurred under the program.”

CEO Shal says at the moment the culprits are believed to be low level officers but an examination of the entire national program would reveal all the key players in this crime.

Valentino Shal, CEO, Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labor, Local Government: “This is a mess that we unfortunately inherited. The Labor Commissioner had identified an issue that was taking place and at the time I think in last year November the matter was reported both to the police and to the Auditor General which is what kicked off the investigation by the Auditor General. And so by the time we took over the program had already concluded and all these things had already supposedly happened. So we found it and of course we are taking the matter very seriously and we are definitely looking very closely at the matter. At the moment the matter is in the hands of the police. Unfortunately we don’t do criminal investigations that’s a matter for the police and so we will wait for them to conclude their investigation and of course charge who they need to charge.”

Reporter: How far up does this go or is it just low level corrupt officers ? 

Valentino Shal, CEO, Ministry of Rural Transformation, Community Development, Labor, Local Government:  “Well I don’t want to go too much into the details as I said because the police is currently conducting their investigations and we will see what they uncover. At the moment it seems to be low level officers but again this is just at one office, this was a national program so what we intend to do is examine the entire program nationally and see if anything of the same nature occured in other offices around the country.”

We’ll keep following this story.