August 14, 2020

OPINION: Does the Caribbean passport scandal affect Saint Vincent again?

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By Jolly Green

Today I read the heading “Immunity for sale: Diplomatic passport trade investigated,”

That heading was from Dominica News. Then I listened and watched a video recording made by Al Jazeera News Agency, which could be the basis of sending a lot of leaders to prison. I advise everyone to watch the video below at – https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/immunity-sale-diplomatic-passport-trade-investigated-191125095116871.html

Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit has been investigating Caribbean States for passport corruption and has exposed how the secret sale of diplomatic passports has helped keep some Caribbean politicians in power.

Dominica’s general election takes place on December 6, and the result may be influenced by payments from wealthy foreigners who want the privileges of becoming an ambassador.

Some of you may remember there were unanswered questions about a diplomatic passport issued in SVG.

Remember the case of the man Morgan, a relative of the then attorney- general Judith Jones-Morgan? He was given a diplomatic passport in 2001. He was not a Vincentian diplomat, he did not work for the government, yet he had a diplomatic passport. In 2004, he was traveling to a family affair in the UK. Judith Jones-Morgan was going to the same family affair but on a different flight. He was caught at a London airport carrying one kilo of cocaine. Because he was traveling on an SVG diplomatic passport, he was sent packing back to SVG. A kilo of cocaine in the UK usually earns you a ten to twenty-year jail sentence. The man had a Canadian passport and a regular Vincentian passport, but he chose to travel on his SVG diplomatic passport. He was not charged in the UK, and when he got back to SVG, he was not charged for anything here either. He went scot-free, no charges were brought anywhere. That in mind, in my opinion that was a blatant case of perverting the course of justice. Perhaps the people who arranged for, and gave him such a right to have a diplomatic passport should also have been charged.

Who issued that passport? I think it was Ralph Gonsalves who personally arranged that passport. Because I am told, all diplomatic passports are at his approval. Gonsalves has never denied such, and this matter has been flying around for years, he has had every opportunity.

Have other diplomatic passports been issued to non-government and non-diplomatic persons, and who? We know our UN vote is always for sale, so how about our diplomatic passports.

We have had plenty of problems with our passports during the Gonsalves, 18 years in power dynastical prime minister, and leader of the Unity Labour Party [ULP].

Do you remember this: while most Caribbean governments seek to pass laws to stop and deter corruption, it appears that the Unity Labour Party government of and the Grenadines aims to pass laws which the opposition party believes will support corruption? The government is accused of rushing a Bill through parliament that offers retrospective protection from prosecution for perpetrators that may have committed what some believe were corrupt or illegal acts.

The Office of Audit for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines carried out an audit of the New York Consulate accounts from August 2011 to August 2013.

The report was conducted to assess the extent of compliance with financial regulations and other rules governing the public sector. This audit came after the stories of a scandal which resulted in the recall of Deputy of the New York Consul General Edson Augustus, over alleged visa and passport related matters. And a side business that he was running that promised to acquire US Green Card status for Vincentians, many of whom were believed to be illegal’s in the US.

The report found many discrepancies, including that the official receipt books for passport payments had been abandoned and private receipt books used. The Audit Office said that was illegal, and there was no way that a track of receipts or continuity of numbered books could be audited or kept track of. There was no monthly expenditure summary to reflect the expenditure incurred for the period under review, and no bank reconciliation statements prepared for the operating and passport accounts for the same period.

The then Consul General Selmon Walters, SVG N.Y. Consul General in New York, failed to implement or cause to be executed, recommendations coming out of the previous audit report, prescribed by finance regulations. These regulations were not adhered to by the Consulate General Office for a “significant length of time” during the period under review, and the Consulate Office “continues to collect passport fees without the requisite authority.”

According to the Office of Audit in 2013, there were no records of individual remittances in the Consulate Cash Book, for monies received for passports. They further reported that they examined records from Oct. 12, 2011 – Sept. 17, 2013, and found “there was no bank reconciliation statement prepared for the passport account.” It said while transactions dated Oct. 11 and 12, 2013 were transferred from the existing cash book to a new one, “the balance carried forward did not reflect the adjusted audited cash book balance.

“It was observed that the unauthorized receipt books were in use for over ten months since the receipt books were still in use at the time of the audit in Sept. 2013,” the report said.

The auditors warned that the use of receipt books other than that prescribed by the Finance Regulation 2009 “makes the collection process vulnerable to fraudulent activities. There is no monitoring of the quantity and sequencing of receipt books to ensure that all revenue collected is accounted for in the correct amounts.” The report also pointed out that the New York Consulate has, for several years, been collecting sometimes inflated fees.

The ULP government has been known to change laws before, to save Party and Government members from being prosecuted.

They retrospectively passed an act to collect a departure tax from their citizens while traveling by ferry from Kingstown to any of the smaller islands. It was alleged that such a tax was an illegal act. To save losing a court case, they worked on a new provision to an existing Bill over a weekend before the court case, to make it legal for the following Monday when the Bill was read three times and passed, and therefore no prosecution took place.

Also, after the 2010 elections, when election laws were allegedly broken, they again sought to change the law retrospectively, so as those alleged perpetrators could not be prosecuted. Among the accused were some of the very top government members.

The Bill to amend the existing Passport Act was the first Bill listed to be tabled before the House of Assembly on Thursday 29th May. But other matters took priority; hence, it is now to be read on the following Monday.

Despite concerns being raised by the Opposition Party and many members of the public, horror was expressed from the Diaspora. ‘An amendment to the Passport Act was slickly before Parliament Monday the 2nd day of June 2014, when it is proposed that the Bill has its required three readings all in one session. An act that will make a wrong right, make black white, make inside outside, make bad good, and therefore no one will pay for robbing the State, if that’s what they did.

I suppose one can wonder why; if they didn’t rob the State, and nothing wrong ensued, why take such drastic terms by bringing this express rushed Bill before the house of representatives?

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace was quoted in The News newspaper Friday 30th May, when he described the amendments as “ridiculous.”

Saying they are “very unjust” and could result in certain persons not been penalized for their wrongdoings.

He said it is very obvious to everyone that the Bill is designed and to prevent diplomats from being charged for things that they may have done in the proceedings of issuing passports from the New York Consuls Office.

According to Eustace, he will repeal the Act if the NDP come to power, in the belief that the government has designed the Bill to protect wrongdoers.

In February of that year, the government recalled with immediate effect, the appointment of SVG’s Deputy Consul General in New York, Edson Augustus.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on February 5th, 2014, claims that Augustus was “involved in activities outside the scope of his duties and inimical to the interest of the Consulate General and the Government and people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.” Augustus has not been charged with having committed any criminal act(s).

Below numbered from 1/ to 4/ are the relevant sections of the Act were cited as the Passport (Amendment) Act 2014. An Act designed to protect ULP appointed diplomats.

(1) Every passport issued for a period of more than five years prior to commencement of this Act and the regulations made under the principal Act is declared to have been validly issued.

(2) The fees set out in the schedule to this Act which were levied, charged and collected by the Passport Officer prior to the commencement of this Act and the regulations made under the principal Act are declared to have been validly levied, charged and collected.

(3) All actions by the Passport Officer in relation to the issuing of a passport and the charging and collecting of fees which were validated by subsections (I) and (2) respectively are validated and declared to have been lawful and the Passport Officer and every person acting on behalf of the Passport Officer are freed, acquitted, discharged and indemnified as well against the Queen’s Most Gracious Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors as against all other persons from all proceedings of any kind in respect of or consequent on any such actions.

(4) All money received by the Passport Officer in payment of the fees validated under sub-section (2) is declared to have been lawfully paid to and received by the Passport Officer and the Passport Officer and every person acting on behalf of the Passpo1t Officer are freed, acquitted, discharged and indemnified as well against the Queen’s most Gracious Majesty, Her Heirs and Successors as against all other persons from all proceedings of any kind in respect of or consequent on the receipt of such money.

September 11th, 2012, the Canadian government revoked Vincentian visa-free entry into Canada as of midnight. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) revoked due to what CIC has indicated is the unreliability in the authenticity of travel documents. They also said that documents from Saint Vincent were unreliable because criminals could change their names and acquire new passports without their previous name being shown in the new passport. Concerns about human trafficking and fraudulent travel documents also prompted the Canadian government to impose new visitor Vincentian visa requirements.

Later in Saint Vincent hundreds, if not thousands of unissued new passports were burnt at the Government Print Department at Camden Park, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Villagers said at the time the fire was massive, it lit up the sky. Some citizens later voiced that the passports should have been mutilated but kept because no one knows the actual number destroyed, or if any were left somewhere intact, I suppose they wondered how you could audit a stock of burnt passports.

In 2015 the Iranian government was using Iranians who have Caribbean passports, and in the case of SVG, the United States said one of them was a Vincentian citizen. There was a report carried in I Witness News; https://www.iwnsvg.com/2015/01/07/gonsalves-denies-iranian-being-monitored-by-us-has-vincentian-citizenship/

Gonsalves or/and the ULP went to great lengths to deny this, and a ULP swamped the article with a ‘make a wrong right’ counter-propaganda writer called Verdical to attack the story. Take a look and see the comments section, what a panic by ‘Verdical.’ Amusingly the word veridical means “truthful.” It’s most unfortunate that Ralph Gonsalves is a self-confessed liar, which makes everything that much more difficult.

While PM Gonsalves may consider all these matters closed, we should say no, they are not. Because we have never had credible reasons or evidential correction of all the accusations and allegations. We are still waiting for the truth, credible and believable evidence of the facts.

Let’s hope that no Diplomatic passports have been sold, but I can assure the readers I am doing my best to investigate and bring a further report to you on this matter.

So between massive election bribery with building materials, and now this again, what’s next?

Jolly Green, passport irregularity hound, and stinker chaser.

c/c the World

END

DISCLAMER: The opinion, belief and viewpoint expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinion, belief and viewpoint of iNews Cayman/ieyenews.com or official policies of iNews Cayman/ieyenews.com

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Comments

  1. There name does appear in this report

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m1Yba1-ijh4

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