Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: Allegations of corruption in government among public officials, including ministers, deputy ministers, and chief executive officers, were numerous, although no substantial proof was presented in most cases. In January the country’s consul general in New York, Herman Longsworth, was fired after an audit of the National Sports Council revealed a number of financial infractions, one of which directly involved Longsworth. The auditor general’s report stated Longsworth may have illegally used official influence in support of a scheme from which he benefited. The investigation continued as of October.
In February minister of national security and newly elected leader of the United Democratic Party John Saldivar was forced to resign when court documents revealed that he received large sums of money from a U.S. citizen accused of defrauding the U.S. government of tax in return for political favors in Belize. Saldivar remained area representative for Belmopan and an active legislator. The commissioner of police stated the BPD would initiate an investigation into the matter and press charges, but as of October no charges had been filed.
The Senate Select Committee presented its report and recommendations on an investigation, initiated in 2017, of the Immigration and Nationality Department conducted by the Office of the Auditor General. The report confirmed the department had a pattern of improper and illegal issuances of Belizean visas, passports, and citizenship. The committee conducted public hearings in 2017 that revealed several instances where high-ranking government officials, including ministers of government, approved the issuance of visas, citizenship, and passports to unqualified individuals. As of October no charges had been filed against anyone as a result of the report.
Andre Vega, son of former deputy prime minister Gaspar Vega, refused to pay 400,000 Belize dollars ($200,000) that the court found he unduly received from the government as compensation from a dubious land transaction in 2016. As of October the case was before the Court of Appeals for consideration.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires public officials to submit annual financial disclosure statements, which the Integrity Commission reviews. At the same time, the constitution allows authorities to prohibit citizens from questioning the validity of such statements. Anyone who does so outside the rigidly prescribed procedure is subject to a moderate fine, three years’ imprisonment, or both. Many public officials did not submit annual financial disclosure statements and suffered no repercussions. As of July only 28 percent of government members required to declare their assets to the Integrity Commission had done so for 2019-20. In accordance with the law, a report was also sent to the director of public prosecution for further action, but as of October no actions had been taken.
Under the previous administration, the Integrity Commission was compromised by scandal, as the commission’s chairperson, Nestor Vasquez, was dismissed following credible accusations of corruption, impunity, transfer of government assets to private ownership, and nepotism.
In July the opposition and majority of the independent senators objected to the reinstating of Deshawn Arzu-Torres as chair of the Integrity Commission for another two years. Senators raised the concern that Arzu-Torres had unsatisfactorily fulfilled her responsibilities and failed to produce reports to the National Assembly. Despite the objections, the National Assembly approved her reappointment.
In September Nestor Vasquez, CEO of state-owned Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL), was embroiled in a corruption and embezzlement scandal moving BTL properties to his personal holdings and charging more than 800,000 Belize dollars ($400,000) to his corporate credit card for personal uses. Vasquez also served as chairman of the Social Security Board, was a member of the anticorruption Integrity Commission, and a member of the Central Bank of Belize. The BTL board removed Vasquez, and he resigned from his government posts, although he remained under investigation by the BTL board and the Office of the Prime Minister.