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Influence Peddeling

Influence Peddeling
May 24
15:50 2019

Undue influence occurs when particular individuals or groups gain an unfair advantage over public decision-making at the expense of the public interest. This can particularly occur when decision-making is opaque, when public officials or third parties act unethically, or when access to political systems is skewed in favour of select interests.

The Association of Accredited Public Policy Advocates to the EU, February 2017 (found at http://www.aalep.eu/risk-influence-peddling, May 20, 2019)

In 2016 the Belize National Teachers Union [BNTU] placed as one of their demands that the Barrow administration sign on to the UN Convention against Corruption. The Barrow administration resisted the BNTU’s demands on the basis that their demands were outside their ambit as teachers. However, the BNTU would not be moved because like so many Belizeans they had grown tired of the naked corruption in our beloved Jewel; corruption that has stunted our national development.

No right thinking Belizean can disagree that over the last two decades our political leaders and their hangers-on have been peddling influence. The practice of influence peddling has made them filthy rich while more and more Belizeans sink into poverty; wretched poverty!

What we saw with Penner was influence peddling. What we saw on Faber’s Road was influence peddling. And it seems that what we saw with Sanctuary Bay may have been influence peddling.

In a partial transcript of the proceedings related to Sanctuary Bay, Mohamad Batal [an employee of the US Federal Trade Commission], in his sworn affidavit introduced a June 2012 email from one Erwin Contreras. In the email Contreras seems to be involved with Andris Pukke on the project management side of the Sanctuary Bay project. In Contreras’ email he asked for certain information and indicated that they were prepared to drive piles and so on.

In his affidavit Batal also introduced another email dated August of 2014 that was copied to Erwin Contreras but this time to an email address erwin.sanctuarybelize@gmail.com.

Four questions sprung to mind when one reads Batal’s affidavit, [1] is this Erwin Contreras the same Contreras that sits in Mr. Barrow’s Cabinet? [2] If it is, why is he not using an official government email address? [3] If it the answer to [2] is that he was acting in a private capacity then why would the Minister of Economic Development of Belize be involved in such a project on a personal level? [4] Can Contreras’ involvement with Andris Pukke Sanctuary Bay be properly considered as influence peddling?

Andris Pukke’s Sanctuary Bay project has been defined by the FTC as the “biggest foreign real estate scam in the FTC’s history;” as a result Pukke has been indicted in the USA. So far during the Sanctuary Bay proceedings two members of Mr Barrow’s 2008 – 2012 Cabinet have been named: Gapi Vega and Erwin Contreras. And recently Aldo Salazar, one of Mr. Barrow’s appointed senators, was interrogated by US officials since he is reportedly the lawyer on record for Atlantic International Bank Ltd!

There is an unholy alliance between the legal fraternity and Belize’s political class that has been extremely profitable for them but harmful for Belize. When “investors” come to Belize they are introduced to Ministers through lawyers. Lawyers are usually the first persons foreigners contact when they wish to set up a company and “invest” in Belize. Lawyers are able to move smoothly through the red tape of Belmopan, if it is that their party is in power and; if they “involve” certain members of Cabinet. It is for all intents and purposes a “hand wash hand” arrangement between the lawyers and the politicians.

It is no coincidence that in the Sanctuary Bay matter no PUP politician or lawyer’s name has been called. Since 2008 this has been UDP country and that means that not just the PUP politicians but even the PUP lawyers are placed in starvation mode. They have no influence to peddle so investors don’t go to them because the red tape in Belmopan entangles them. They can’t deliver tax breaks, land titles and political protection, so what’s the use?!

By now you must have realized that Belmopan is not about us the ordinary Belizeans; Belmopan is about influence peddling, plain and simple!

The Sanctuary Bay matter is a serious one for us as the FTC can bring serious economic pain to us through sanctions against our banking sector. Mr. Barrow has been careful to reassure the Belizean people that all will be well but he knows the pain that may come.

When banks collapse it is usually depositors who are left holding the bag because bankers are required by law only to hold a small portion of deposits in their vaults, the rest they sometimes play reckless games with. It appears from the records so far that Atlantic International Bank might have been playing recklessly and Aldo Salazar as their lawyer was supposed to be giving them legal advice.

To repeat the unholy alliance between the legal fraternity and Belize’s political class has been profitable for them but harmful for us. If you have ever had to go for a passport recently you know that to obtain a passport the process is tortuous and just short of a cavity search. It is because of influence peddling that this is so beloved; we who never sold a passport are now treated like criminals whilst the guilty ones walk around with a pocket full of money.

It is your power that they are peddling and it is the proceeds of influence peddling that they use to buy your vote. So who is the real culprit here beloved? Tell me! Who?

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