The last administration of the Government of Belize failed in many instances, none more glaring than in their self-confessed hotbed of corruption, better known to ordinary Belizeans as the Lands Department. However, the heat spread quite far and wide and made a hot mess of what was then the Ministry of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation. This week the big news is not who will eventually be Mira’s next victim, but rather the fleecing of those resources that were destined for that sector which is most vulnerable in our society. The Report of the Auditor General’s office on the Performance of the Food Pantry Programme during the period of April 2016 to March 2019 is damning.
The findings of the audit found that the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation did not follow the rules from the Ministry of Finance in respect to reallocation of funds from one line item to another. They also failed in documentation of procedures for selection of suppliers and did not use any tendering procedure to select suppliers or providers of pantry packages. The selection of the beneficiaries of the pantry packages was flawed, non-transparent, and resulted in non-eligible persons receiving packages. There was also a lack of control and tallying of beneficiaries, so that people not on the master lists received packages.
Most notable in this hot mess is the participation of The Salvation Army who by all accounts ended up with a tidy profit in excess of three million dollars. It is estimated that they gained $4.76 per package and even started their own pantry franchise by partnering with Sister B. It seems that the UDP horde was intent in devouring everything in their path. The modus operandi employed was to make Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) through friends and families, and to thereby fleece the GOB. Uncle Boots, did not even spare his mother, using her to front the Port Loyola Organization for Women. He could therefore have no objection to Papa Mena coming by to sing his tune …” You For Me and Me for Me.”
By all accounts Uncle Boots did a number on the Belizean people and the only poverty he was worried about alleviating was his very own. At this point it is also necessary to note that among those who benefitted from these pantry packages were one hundred and forty-five public officers making more than one hundred and seventy-five dollars weekly. Uncle Boots is not bright enough to have pulled off the scam of the decade by himself. He had lots of help in his Ministry and those public officers are all guilty by commission and omission. The then Chief Executive Officer, the Financial Officer and all those other compliance officers who should have been doing their jobs were clearly enabling a corrupt and twisted system of their own creation. Many of these same officers are still at the Ministry of Human Development, Families, and Indigenous People’s Affairs. These are the same officers who allowed the payment of over 24M to go uncertified and in noncompliance of rules and guidelines of the Ministry of Finance.
The recovery of funds must be priority, and those monies paid unfairly must be returned. We demand that those who have actively participated or allowed this injustice to happen be held accountable for their actions. This is not the accepted standard of integrity and professionalism that we expect from our public officers, and so the investigation must lead now into dismissal of those responsible for this travesty. Heads need to roll because the wronged were precisely those who most need the safety nets that this Ministry provides. It is unconscionable that those whose task is to help this vulnerable sector are the ones to take advantage of their positions to do them more harm. Shame on you!!!