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Unprofessional Forest Officer Faces Suspension

CEO of the Ministry of Sustainable Development Dr. Kenrick Williams on Wednesday wrote to the forest officer who, according to the Prime Minister, was rude and hung up the phone on him. In that letter, Dr. Williams informs the officer that he is to proceed on a 5 day’s administrative leave with effect from today to May 5. The letter says (quote) “the purpose of this administration leave is as a result of your failure to act in a professional manner…” (end of quote). As we’ve been reporting, Prime Minister John Briceno left a meeting to make a personal phone to the forest officer who had decided to quarantine a shipment of plants being imported by Diani Chan of Botanical Gardens by Roselyn. It was the Minister of Agriculture Jose Mai who asked the Prime Minister to intervene. And today Minister Mai confirmed that a quarantine officer is also being investigated.

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise: There is reason to believe that he acted wrongly and so we cannot say that we would discipline somebody without an investigation. It has to. There’s a due course to be followed. BAHA has its procedures. It has its disciplinary procedures and they will look into it. The difference here is do your job properly. I, let me tell you something. I had to get involved because BAHA is under my ministry. When I spoke to the Land Health Director, the Acting, I asked him what is the reason? What is? What’s going on? And he said Minister, that lady and the plants have a BAHA permit. Then, is she okay BAHA? Yes she’s okay to come in. So I said, “Why is it that your officer on the ground is not allowing her to come in?” It was 7 the night already. The plants had been two days in the sun and I understand that someone had said before, one of the officers had said “Oh lock it up. Tomorrow we will deal with this 10 o’clock in the morning.” That cannot be the case when you have plants, not even animals. Right? So I said to him, “What is the problem?” He said, “Minister, I sat with the lady and explained to her what to do.” The problem was never BAHA you know. BAHA didn’t have a problem. BAHA is the authority, or the authorised body, to give you a phytosanitary certificate based on the requirements you have to meet. That was clear with us, clear as crystal. Right? But the officer on the ground seemed to know best or more and he said no. Right? Even though he was, his, he was not even on site. It was his junior officer who had been doing the inspection and I don’t want to reveal more things, Jules, because this person, this is under investigation. I don’t want to say anything that is are not quite true. When the investigation is thorough you can get a copy of that report right?”

Reporter: Do you expect any backlash from the Public Service Union whose president said that they will defend the public officer?

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise: “Well I think he said. He’s saying it and they have a right to do so. They have an association. They have a union. If he believes that the officer is being treated unfairly, they will do it. They’ve always done so. It doesn’t surprise me.”

Reporter: Do you think, do you think the people will, are starting to say, the Government, that this party is vindictive and spiteful? What do you think?

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise: “I don’t think so. It’s a due process. They can, they can do their investigation too.”

As we’ve reported, Belize is a signatory to CITES and under the convention, certain obligations must be met. CITES-listed species can only be traded if it is accompanied by CITES documentation. In Belize, the Forest Department has for many years been the competent authority to issue the permits, not BAHA as Minister Mai had said. However, that confusion according to Mai has been resolved and the Minister of Sustainable Development Orlando Habet was told to move on.

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise: That has been corrected already. We discussed this at length in Cabinet, Minister Habet and I and Prime Minister and we have to get law in place. Don’t, you cannot do something if there’s no law to back you up and you know better than I so that has to be put in place and I told Minister Habet, you need to move on. I have said and I support, 100%, look my son is a Natural Resource Management student so he was schooling me last night and I said to him “Is it possible that I have a nursery with growing black orchids and selling it to the public?” He said “Maybe.” He said but that is on the CITE list too. He said maybe it can be done but with a permit because I’m not going into the jungle and stealing it like what they were doing with Xate, remember when they were exporting it.”

Reporter: And rosewood

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise:  “Rosewood! Your friend’s rosewood. So he said “No dads, you could bring it in but with a permit.” Right? Now how do I? How does the person buying it from me know that it’s not taken from the Chiquibul Reserve? Right? See because you have to certify these nurseries to be doing this and he said “ and, they may not even give you the permit because if you objective is to take back the orchids into the jungle to repopulate, it’s a good thing but your objective is to sell Black Orchid. Right? So it may not even be granted.” Now these are legislations. These are the measures that we don’t have in Belize. You know how long we signed on to C.I.T.E.S.? Do you know?”

Reporter: I would say over 12 years. 

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise: 1978 I understand. 1978. SO you know what should be done? Pass the damned law!”

Reporter: Well, it’s your job to do it. 

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise:  “Exactly, it is in process. It is in committee level right now.”

Reporter: But in the meantime, you’ll just play with the loopholes?

Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture, Food Security & Enterprise: “No. No and this is where today BAHA and Forestry are meeting to iron this out. We cannot have this happening again. It is shameful.”