PUP says UDP “Wheel and come again!” PM Barrow “invites” Elvin Penner to resign from Parliament and the UDP
Friday, October 18th, 2013
The Prime Minister of Belize and the Leader of ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) Honorable Dean Barrow is calling on one of his colleagues to resign from the parliament and the party. The call for the resignation of Honorable Elvin Penner, the elected member of Cayo Northeast Electoral Division, came after more irregularities were uncovered by Honorable Godwin Hulse, the Minister responsible for the Immigration and Nationality Department. But the larger opposition party in Belize, the People’s United Party (PUP), says that UDP is “backpedaling” and that PM Barrow had to “Wheel and come again” since the PUP first called for Penner’s head 13 days ago.
Earlier in October, PM Barrow had booted Penner out from his Cabinet amidst public outrage over a passport and immigration scandal. The scandal first came to light when South Korean criminal Won Hong Kim (who is currently in jail) was granted Belizean nationality and a passport for US $120,000. More evidence of wrongdoing was uncovered and made public, which pressured the dormant PUP into full political gear, launching the first recall exercise in Belize’s history. The Penner passport and immigration scandal is the largest corruption scheme to have been uncovered under the Barrow Administration – an administration that got elected on a mantra of anti-corruption, transparency and accountability.
The PUP set up camps, visited homes, and called on the residents to recall Penner from government for his “wrongdoings.” The Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) Party also joined the PUP in their house to house campaign to collect the 1,800 signatures needed to trigger the recall referendum against Penner. By the end of the long weekend, the PUP had collected over 1,500 signatures.
At the time, Barrow stated that the UDP would go out in the Cayo Northeast division and “defend” Penner against the recall exercise in an effort to “preserve” the UDP divisional seat in parliament. The UDP has a slim majority control in the government: 17 to 14 seats which has forced them to defend their political stronghold. And defend they did as the UDP blanketed the Cayo district with banners calling on the Cayo Northeast residents “not to sign” the recall petition. In addition, PM Barrow and senior party members of his party, caps in hand, took the weekend to visit each community in the electoral division explaining why the UDP needed to preserve the seat.
But by Tuesday October 15th, the political sphere had taken a complete turn prompting the PM Barrow to call a press conference. “Penner has reached the end of the road with the United Democratic Party,” announced PM Barrow. PM Barrow took an unprecedented approach and called on Penner to resign as the elected UDP elected Area Representative and make way for a by-election in the Cayo Northeast division.
“More evidence has surfaced of the involvement of Elvin Penner in other instances of what to us is impropriety. The material presented to Cabinet was and is enough for us to feel that Elvin Penner was involved in additional instances of what I will term “irregularities.” We can in the circumstances no longer continue to support Elvin Penner, meaning that in our view, he cannot any longer continue to represent the people of the Cayo Northeast constituency as and in the name of the United Democratic Party,” stated Barrow while flanked by his Cabinet colleagues. “We hereby invite Hon. Penner to resign his seat, to resign in fact from the United Democratic Party. We cannot expel Penner from the House of Representatives. If Hon. Penner heeds our request that he resign from the House or that he resign from the UDP which would produce the same result, then the procedures are set in motion for him to vacate the seat and for a by-election to take place. We believe that it would be far neater, far less messy for Penner to do what we believe is the right thing by his party and by his people and in fact heed the call to resign.”
Barrow went on to say that he had ordered his party supporters to remove the banners and “retreat” from going house to house in Penner’s defense and allow the PUP “ample opportunity” to complete the recall exercise and “let that process work and let the chips fall where they may.”
Hours later, the PUP held their own press conference in which the PUP Party Leader Francis Fonseca said that PM Barrow had to “Wheel and come again” and was “backpedaling” from his original position. “Mr. Penner knows too much about the corrupt deals taking place in many other ministries and he knows only too well the extent of the involvement of other members of the Cabinet in this very immigration and visa scandal. In other words, what kept the Prime Minister from moving was Mr. Penner making it very clear to the UDP and to him; “If I go down, all of us are going down together” and so they were afraid and this is why we have to understand that Mr. Barrow only came out today at this press conference in Belmopan beating his chest about taking action and no longer being able to associate with Mr. Penner, when Mr. Penner was safely hundreds and thousands of miles away from Belize,” said Fonseca. “To suddenly wake up this morning enlightened, and he has joined with me when I put in black and white on October 2nd to Mr. Penner ‘resign or be recalled.’ It is only today 26 days later, 13 days after we made the call for Penner to resign officially and many weeks after many other members of the public have been leading the call for him to resign – it’s now that the Prime Minister has joined that call. The Prime Minister must cause an audit to be done of exactly how many passports were sold by Penner and to whom. Penner must disclose the extent of his wrong doing to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister is obliged to report to the Belizean people.” The PUP indicated that their Senators along with those from the union, business community and the council of churches will lead the call for a senate inquiry into the passport, nationality and now visa irregularities.
This is not the first time that the Immigration Department has been rocked by scandal. Twice under the PUP/Musa administration scandals with passport and immigration broke out. When questioned about the morality of the PUP to call out the ruling government under circumstances that once plagued their party, Fonseca said that they have an obligation to keep a watchful eye. “We not only have the moral authority, we have a duty and obligation to do so. They (UDP) would love nothing more than for us to keep talking about what took place 10 – 15 years ago. The reality is that you are right. The system is broken, it has been broken under both administrations, but we are saying we are prepared to do something about it and that gives us the moral authority to speak on the issue,” replied the PUP leader.
According to PM Barrow, who left the country on Thursday, October 17th for medical attention, his party has looked into their possible replacement for Penner whether he resigns or removed by the PUP recall exercise. Penner, who is in Guatemala also for medical reasons, has indicated that he will only resign after consultation with his supports in his constituency.