Barrow’s GST Department is in Shambles

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Mr. Barrow, who is always grinning and patting himself on the back for his greatness, recently boasted about the amalgamation of the GST and Income Tax Departments. But he has had very little to say about the arrest of senior GST official Reynaldo Verde, nabbed by the FBI and still held in custody in the US. Verde was on his way back after a trip representing the government of Belize when he was detained.

Just as a matter of background, Verde has been accused by Chris Williams, the developer of Orchid Bay in Corozal, of attempting to extort monies from him to let unpaid GST of allegedly millions owed by Orchid Bay ‘go away.’ Williams got the FBI involved, and in late August they set up a sting at the development, and Verde was allegedly recorded discussing the matter with Williams.

Verde was able to be arrested in the US, we are told, because Williams contends that somehow because of the extortion attempt, he cannot show that his GST arrears are paid and current, and he has not been able to obtain loans to further development of the resort. According to the official affidavit of complaint against Verde, the ‘actual and attempted extortion has obstructed, delayed and affected commerce within the Southern District of Florida.’

Sources tell the Belize Times that very many people within the GST Department, and even in the Ministry of Finance, are very uneasy about Verde being in FBI hands, because as a senior GST official for many years, he knows where a lot of the skeletons are buried. That same source has told this newspaper that Verde is considered small fish by the FBI, who are allegedly gathering information about other, bigger attempts to defraud and extort US citizens, maybe even at the Ministerial level.

But the bigger story is that the GST Department comes directly under the Ministry of Finance, which is the Prime Minister’s portfolio, and it is in a state of total disarray. How is it that the Orchid Bay development was able to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid arrears? Why wasn’t a move made to collect those monies?

And another question is how long have GST officials been extorting money from businesses, with nobody the wiser? If the FBI had not gotten involved in this case and orchestrated a sting, nobody would have known anything. We are reliably informed that on multiple occasions, son of Minister Edmond Castro, Jumoke Castro who works at the GST Department has been accused of ‘shaking down’ businesses. He has even been called before the Public Services Commission, but has been protected by his privileged status. What really is happening in the GST Department?

Mr. Barrow loves to prance about and boast, but the truth is that he has been a failure not only in his role as the leader of the nation – though he has been a dismal failure at that. Mr. Barrow has failed to steer the ship at the Ministry of Finance. Just this week, the country got a major black eye with the total trouncing of AIBL by the FTC. And now, another black eye because of the allegation that a senior GST official was caught extorting an American businessman. This will no doubt hurt the investment climate, and we will reach a point very soon where no right-minded investor of integrity will want to invest in Belize.

Perhaps that is why Belize has become a magnet for shady investments. It is time for Mr. Barrow to pack up and roll out, and time for the PUP to right the wrongs. The writing is on the wall. It is only a matter of time.