Minister Hulse’s Proposals Reach National Assembly Print E-mail
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Written by Shane d. Williams   
Thursday, 07 November 2013 00:00

Prime Minister Hon. Dean BarrowImmediately after Senator Godwin Hulse, Minister of Immigration, was informed of a breach of protocol By Hon. Elvin Penner in the issuance of passport and nationality documents to an inmate of the Taiwanese prison, he launched a review of the entire system and announced changes that would limit the potential for corruption on Thursday, October 10th. Those proposals were forwarded to those who draft legislations in order to make necessary amendments to the laws. Those amendments were introduced in the House of Assembly on Friday, November 1st.

Three amendments to the laws have been tabled in the National Assembly in order to limit the potential for corruption in the passport and nationality departments. The Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2013 amends the Immigration Act in relation to permanent residency and the issuance of visas. The Belizean Nationality (Amendment) Bill, 2013 amends the Belizean Nationality Act in relation to registration of citizenship. The Passport (Amendment) Bill, 2013 amends the Passport Act in respect to offences and penalties in case of breach of protocol.

The Immigration (Amendment) Bill includes the addition of a new section in the Immigration Department with responsibility for the issuance of permanent residency permits and a visa vetting committee. The role of the vetting committee is to review and make recommendations on every visa application from every country. The Director of Immigration or any consular office cannot issue a visa without the approval of the vetting committee. The visa vetting committee will consist of the C.E.O. in the ministry of Immigration, the CEO in the Ministry of Human Development, the CEO in the Ministry of National Security and the Director of Immigration and Nationality Services. Previously, the approval of visa applications and the directive to issue visas rested exclusively with the Director of Immigration and Nationality.

As explained by Prime Minister Barrow in the House of Assembly, the Belizean Nationality (Amendment) Bill mandates that “all applicants for nationality must be in possession of a permanent residency permit declaring their status as a permanent resident for five years of continuous residency immediately prior to applying to be registered as a citizen of Belize”. The amendments also provide for increased penalties in cases where the provisions of the act are violated. Those in violation of the Nationality Act, including Ministers and public officers, will be fined fifty thousand dollars and serve a mandatory jail term of five to fifteen years. The bill also includes the establishment of a nationality scrutinizing committee. The committee is to consist of one representative of the Attorney General’s Ministry, the Chief Executive Officers in the Ministries of Immigration, Human Development and National Security, one member appointed by the Minister of Immigration after consultation with the Council of Churches and Association of Evangelical Churches, one member appointed by the Minister after consultation with the Belize Chamber of Commerce and one member appointed by the Minister after consultation with the National Trade Union Congress of Belize. The Director of Immigration will also serve as an ex-officio member.

 The Passport (Amendment) Bill increases the penalties individuals will face if convicted of unlawfully facilitating the procurement of passports. The existing penalty for unlawful facilitating or procuring passports is $500 and up to one year imprisonment. Senator Hulse says that amounts to a slap on the wrists for individuals making huge money on this scam. The new fine for the unlawful facilitation and procurement of passports is now $50,000. Hulse says they may easily be able to afford to pay the fine but a now mandatory jail term of five to fifteen years should act as a reasonable deterrent. This increase in penalties for passport fraud is in addition to new measures that were already put in place by Minister Hulse to limit the potential for passport fraud.   

These three bills are now at the House Committee for National Security and Immigration. The committee is scheduled to meet on Monday, November 11th, inside the National Assembly Building. Any person or group interested in expressing their views can do so by writing to the Clerk of the National Assembly or appearing at the meeting for 2 p.m.