Forrest Gump: A Big Box of Chocolates

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Forrest Gump must have been thinking about the present Cabinet when he said “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”  The fact is that Cabinet manages to surprise us, just when Belizeans think we have hit the absolute rock bottom, here comes another international scandal to prove us wrong.  Forget bad luck and lousy coincidence, Belize seems to be the magnet that attracts all the riffraff, the fraudsters and all types of unsavory characters.  Over the last twelve years, Belize has become the Mecca for people who want to indulge in all manner of illegal pursuits.

Coincidence and bad luck, if you believe in them, have little to do with the sad state of affairs in Belize. The reality is that Belize is attractive to all manner of fraudsters, con artists and other disreputable types because of how easily and readily they can enter the country, and become citizens and carry on their shady businesses. It is almost effortless, with a little show of wealth, to gain the attention and friendship of Cabinet members on the lookout for campaign contributions.  Friendly Ministers have been known to flock the Immigration offices to push paperwork for citizenship, work permits and passports and even sign recommendation forms for friends they hardly know.  Two years after the conclusion of the investigations of the Senate Select Committee on the Immigration scandal, we have yet to receive a final report from the Chairman Senator Aldo Salazar who is busy extricating himself from another scandal known as the biggest Real Estate Scam in history, Sanctuary Bay.

Instead of tabling the report as is his duty, Senator Salazar is dragging his feet. The importance of the report is to identify and address loopholes and gaping lapses in processes that permit and encourage the issuance of nationality documents and visas to persons who do not meet the criteria.  The continued practice of express citizenship has been so widespread that senior immigration officials have testified, under oath at those same Senate investigations, that they influenced the outcomes of previous elections.  Even more seriously, these quickie Be Belizean All Inclusive packages do not provide for any screening or background checks.  As Dianne Finnegan will agree, most are Central American immigrants looking for better opportunities, but a few are actually grifters perpetuating their latest hustle on unsuspecting dupes.

We patiently wait till the month’s end with our eyes and ears glued to the testimony which will be given in a courthouse in faraway Utah.  We wonder why it is that we must again wait to hear in foreign courts of the crimes and illegalities perpetuated on Belizean soil and allegedly enabled by members and officials in our highest offices. Many questions come to mind, chief among them is why do these criminals find Belize so appealing? Can it be our lack of transparency, accountability and the proliferation of rampant corruption at every level of government?  Can the complicity of authorities in action and omission be the reason that so many fraudulent schemes can be traced back to Belize?  The Prime Minister has once again pledged swift expulsion should a member of his cabinet be named as the minister taking bribes.  However, just as in the case of Penner, he has not promised any legal consequences.  Already, the PM has named Hon. Michael Finnegan as the Minister who directed Lev Dermen to the Foreign Minister in view of becoming a diplomat representing Belize. It was only due to the intervention of the US Government that this calamity was averted.

The performance put on this week was unimpressive and unconvincing, it is painfully obvious that he is nervous about the fate and state of the UDP. It seems that the PM is at the end of his term and at the end of his rope.  He has nobody but himself to blame for the mess he has made, he was far too lax in putting his house in order, knowing full well the shambles his ministers of cabinet were making in lands and at immigration.  Still putting his legacy as priority, he allowed it with only a pat on the wrist.  The rest were emboldened because there were no real consequences and the rest is history as they say.  So while some may believe that Belize has again been victim of a terrible coincidence or just dumb luck, we think not. Forrest Gump famously said that “stupid is as stupid does.” We prefer to believe Forrest.