Important Note: This Internet version of 7 News is a verbatum
transcript of our evening television news script. Many interviews on our newscast
are conducted in Creole. In the interest of clarity for our foreign readers,
we attempt to paraphrase the Creole quotes in English
Since the story of accused murderer, kidnapper, and conman William "Danny" Mason broke on Monday, we've been trying to find out just how connected he is to the Barrow Administration.
So far, we've found out that he was well known to Police Minister John Saldivar, whose football club he contributed to. Prime Minister Dean Barrow disclosed that Minister of State Frank "Pawpa" Mena received a ten thousand dollar campaign contribution form Mason, which he now wants to give back. Then, Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber went to Mason's Intelco Hill Mansion for "congratulatory drinks" after his swearing in ceremony in early June. And, today, when we asked, Immigration and Natural Resources Minister Godwin Hulse confirmed reports we'd been receiving that he also went up the Hill along with DPM Faber. Now, this would seem to conflict directly with what Hulse told the media on Monday when he said that he'd never seen Mason before – and now we learn that he's been to visit his house? How does Hulse square that away? Today he explained:
Mike Rudon "Did you know Williams Mason? Were you ever at his home?"
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration "I don't know him at all. I went on the swearing on of Patrick Faber. I was invited to a reception; had no idea where it was going to be. My driver followed the crew to where it was, we got to this building that looked like a restaurant. In fact I was told it was going to be a steak restaurant. They had a small bar with several tables around. I stood there and I spoke to Alexis Ferreda, Ruben Campos, Dean Williams a little group just basically at the entrance. It was raining like hell; I needed to get back to the office. I trotted through the rain went back to my office at 4, never had anything to eat, had 1 lighthouse beer which is a little odd because I normally no drink beer but just for the company and that was it. I had no idea this was a house, a mansion it look like a restaurant to me and I told it was going to be a streak restaurant. That was the beginning and the end of my association with the building. I had seen the building before, never entered it but I've seen it because there is a beautiful tree called Cortez Tree that blossoms every now and then a beautiful orange and where ever I see them I spot them. So one day I was driving along going up to place called Omega and I saw the trees, I turned down that road and took a picture of the beautiful trees. That's the beginning and end of my association with the building. Never met the man, didn't know if he had a wife, never knew who he was and never cared."
And while we had the opportunity, today, we asked Hulse's cabinet colleague, Tracy Taegar-Panton, if she ever came into contact with William Mason. We had been questioning all of her colleagues who granted press encounters this week. Though she answered when we asked, she made it plain that she didn't appreciate the topic being brought up:
Daniel Ortiz "Did you by any chance come into contact with Mr. Mason?"
Hon. Tracy Panton - Minister of State - Investment, Trade & Commerce "I can say categorically I have never had any interaction with Mr. Mason or any of his associates."
And while Tracy Taegar-Panton says that she has never met William Mason, her husband, Herbert Panton has to do so, and that's because he is Mason's attorney – and he seems to have a very big defence to mount.
That's because on Wednesday, police revealed that they are in possession of surveillance footage confiscated from Mason's Intelco Hill Mansion in Belmopan. According to investigators, the video shows clearly how Mason and his other 5 defendants kidnapped Pastor Llewelyn Lucas, David Dodd, and another man while they were inside Mason's hilltop home on Friday, February 15. A few hours later, the cops found Pastor Lue's decapitated head inside Mason's truck.
With the evidence seemingly piling up against Mason and the other 5, we asked Herbert Panton yesterday evening about the apparently tough cause he'll have to defend his clients against when they get their day in court. But, Panton was still confident that the men could be acquitted:
Daniel Ortiz "Now sir the police reviled yesterday that they have into possession of a video which shows your other 5 clients acting in concert, identities very well visible to kidnap Mr. David Dodd and Pastor Lu now deceased and another man. This is supposedly a game changer sir."
Herbert Panton - Attorney for the Defence "All I will say is that from the very first press conference that the police top brass has had they have whipped this nation up into a frenzy and it is a frenzy with unrealistic expectations. I don't know what they have in their possession upon disclosure date I will get that information but they very well know that they continue to throw these piece meal information how they prejudice their own case."
So, as the William "Danny" Mason saga continues to unravel, there a number of unanswered questions. We've managed to unearth several aliases of his. His Guyanese passport says that he is Rajesh Oulette, and that would make the name "William Mason", just one of the assumed identities. He's known also as Canadian "Ted Oulette", as "Raj Ouellet" - a variation on the spelling on the Guyanese passport, and there are reports suggesting that he has also identified himself as Belizean "William Ferguson", and we know that police are seeking his wife, Mellissa Ferguson.
Today, we asked Immigration Minister Godwin Hulse if he or the other Government Department heads have managed to find out just how he got hold of the fake birth certificate which says that he is from Crooked Tree. Hulse told us that the Attorney General's Ministry is still investigating that, but he knows for certain that Mason did not manage to get hold of a Belizean passport:
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration "We found nothing I immediately after I left the press conference contacted the director of immigration and they people at the passport to research the file to see if he had gotten a passport and how he got it. From their record there is no record of him having a passport; a Belize passport that is. So that is where I am with it, we have left that open for continued research in terms of the electronic follow up of that process and to date everybody is saying no; no Mason applied, no passport. I have instructed them to look under the other names as well to see if any passport was issued under the other names so as of this interview that's the position."
Mike Rudon "Sir have you been able to follow up the birth certificate angle of this?"
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration "No absolutely not but I can tell you that the prime minister and cabinet instructed the attorney general who's responsible for vital statistics to look into that like post heist because of course that is a serious matter."
Daniel Ortiz "Sir are you able to tell us have you all done any research as to how and when he entered the country? We've seen a document which says he's a Guyanese and his name is Rajesh Ouellet."
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration "No not at this time also. This is an ongoing thing and I don't want to prejudice. No information has come back to me, I've simply said to the CEO and to the director and as you know the roll of immigration has been split functionally and supervisory so to speak or over sight. So they are working on that. I can assure you as soon as we get some information I will pass it to you."
Mike Rudon "We have seen this happen in vital statistics before where people come up with these birth certificates and nothing happens. There seems to be no investigation, nobody follows it up and it just passes."
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration "You are right and it's something that have troubled me for a long time this whole issue of a birth certificate that has no physical trace to the person. There's no finger print on it because it's a baby. There is no picture, there is nothing and so it's happening all over the world and I figure that vital statistics has to come up with a way. And that is why and I want to repeat this gentlemen; please that is why when we did the immigration thing we said move away from the JP because we know that story and please bring in some people we think would have some integrity. This is an issue that the whole national has to coal lest around."
Daniel Ortiz "It may have seen time and time again where once one person gets one of these documents either the nationality passport or the birth certificate; all doors tend to open up afterwards where the different departments depend upon the due diligence that the others did. Have you all moved away from that to do your own investigations?"
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration "That was why we set up that system so we would move away and just no accept social security card or some other thing. And if you talk to the people on the street they'll tell you oh that's a difficult process you have to go through hoops. I had a passport before and now I have to bring all of this again and it's cumbersome. But people need to understand that it's because of their very same mess we had to put in some systems to try to circumvent."
As you can see, the fake birth certificate says that He is "William Alexander Mason" born to parents James Mason, a farmer from Cooked Tree, and his common-law wife, Sharon Tillett.
The Barrow Administration and the Ashcroft Alliance are back in court tonight – and this time the argument is over US dollars. As we told you government paid the first half of the settlement last week Wednesday, 40% in US dollars, and 60% in Belize dollars.
And, just as we told you at the time, the Ashcroft Alliance didn't like that breakdown one bit. They wanted the whole sum in US dollars, so the news tonight is that the Alliance has applied to the Caribbean Court of Justice to ask the court the interpret the settlement agreement with Government.
But that's just one issue. Government is now saying that the Permanent Court of Arbitration made mathematical errors in its judgment, namely with the rate of exchange used and the calculation of interest. According to a release, quote, "Both mistakes by the Tribunal prejudiced GOB and resulted overall in larger sums being awarded than were justified." End quote. Government now has 30 days from the date of the award to seek rectification, and applications are being filed.
So, now both sides are headed back to court, which means more litigation, an outcome which only the lawyers would applaud.
Two nights ago we told you about the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association – they are saying that ASR/BSI should absorb all the losses – which is about half a million dollars - for the 3,900 tonnes of molasses that went bad in tanks at the Tower Hill factory. The farmers stand to lose 22 cents per tonne in their second payment as a result of this loss – and they aren't too happy about that.
Well today ASR/BSI sent out its own release telling the famers that it's not a deduction from the price, but, quote, "rather a lost opportunity to realize proceeds from its sale." A release from ASR/BSI adds, quote, "The fundamental principle underlying the cane price calculation is a sharing of the value…from the sale of sugar and molasses…this extends to a sharing of both gains and losses." The release points out that BSI alone has to deal with the losses of handling and disposal of the molasses. The release closes, scolding, "It is…unhelpful to point fingers… it must be viewed as an opportunity to…work together…with a sense of shared responsibility."
For the past five years, Belize's trade imbalance has been growing – that means that the country consistently imports more goods than it exports.
The disparity is cause for concern, and though it is an issue that confronts many small nations, the Directorate of Foreign Trade wants to ensure that they are doing all they can to maximize access to export markets.
To get the job done, the Ministry of Economy Development, Petroleum, Investment, Trade and Commerce has put together a new trade strategy called the "National Trade Policy Framework". It's a 40 page document which takes an honest, hard look at all aspects of trade. After months of deliberation within the Ministry and Cabinet, it was finally unveiled this morning.
7News was there, and we spoke with the Director of Foreign Trade, and the Minister of State about it:
Dr. Leroy Almendarez - Director of Foreign Trade "Well it's a framework and was mentioned by the minister under CARICOM under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas under chapter 5 it speaks to trade policy and really what it should establish because the main focus of the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas has to do with economic development. Economic development for all member states and so in terms of trade what is the environment? Is the environment conducive to the the growth of every member state and so that is important. It is the same thing under the marrakesh agreement that established the WTO."
"From this framework will come the actual policy, the policy document but that policy document it will include extensive consultations. So we will be meeting with the private sector, the public sector. One of our major stakeholders the media has to be included because remember we need the media to get our message across and so in terms of environment, how do you trade. If you are having any kind of dispute, how disputes is settled because there is a dispute settlement under CARICOM and under the WTO."
Daniel Ortiz "It is no secret that Belize imports more than it exports does this policy look at that and trying to get our exporters better opportunities to increase the traffic out instead of in?"
Dr. Leroy Almendarez - Director of Foreign Trade "It does. As a matter of fact we're looking at the constraints. What is keeping back our exports? Now remember the public sector does not trade but what the public sector does in cooperation and in consultation with the private sector is to see where the short comings are."
Hon. Tracy Panton - Minister of State - Investment, Trade & Commerce "We want to ensure as a government that whatever framework we have and whatever policy finally comes out of that framework will help to serve primarily the interest of Belize while not going against the conventions and agreements that we have signed in terms of trade facilitation between countries."
Dr. Leroy Almendarez - Director of Foreign Trade "There is every effort because we continue to meet with the agricultural sector. Every effort to make sure that we meet those standards, that the cost of doing business is low because sometimes what affects that is the cost of doing business known as the cost of production. And once those cost have lowered through great efficiency, through technological advances then it simply means that you can get your products out even quicker. Greater efficiency, lower cost makes you more competitive and this policy framework addresses competitiveness."
Hon. Tracy Panton - Minister of State - Investment, Trade & Commerce "I think that for Belize our focus is looking at not so much importation because there is really a huge imbalance in trade but looking at how we can get our goods and services up to the standards of exportation."
Of course, the policy framework is in its initial stages. The Ministry wants to consult with the private sector to ensure that the different fixes they want to implement actually help to alleviate the problems, rather than worsening them, or creating new ones.
Earlier in the news, you saw our interview with Minister of Natural Resources Godwin Hulse about his trip up to the Mason Mansion on Intelco Hill. Though Hulse says that he has never met the man, we know that at least 5 of his cabinet colleagues were friendly to, or acquainted with Mason: so far three of them have publicly admitted to this. And while public perception is one thing, the fact of the matter is that politicians cultivate wealthy friends, because politics is a money game, and those who don't have it, can't play, or maybe, we should say, they can't win!
Yesterday we asked the PUP leader about committing to campaign finance reform and accountability, and he gave us a feeble "wait and see" answer. But today we asked Godwin Hulse about it. Ever the reformer, how does he feel about limiting the influence that private business persons can exert on the political matrix?:
Mike Rudon "I want to ask you about the importance of that if you are a supporter of campaign finance reform. And also the integrity commission; there has been a call for the integrity commission."
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration "The problem with the integrity commission is trying to get a qualified accountant so we might have to change the rules because as you know under this whole FIU regime nobody wants to serve that has been that problem. But campaign financing I fully agree with you. Now I believe firmly that people will give monies you see it in the US but it should be given to the party it should be given to the national executive whom then manages it in a process that is accountable. Nobody is ever going to come to god knows and give me no money. In fact I have a story where somebody came and I sent him down to Belcan and say I call Miss Pearl and I said a good philanthropist wants to make a donation collect it from him and give him a receipt. That's the way it should work."
Mike Rudon "So there is no move at this point to deal with the integrity commission?"
Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Immigration "There is, they are hoping to reconvene it but then again it's to find somebody who would want to serve under the regulation that you must have a member of the accountants association, certified accountant and that's the hold up."
Campaign finance regulations are not common in the Caribbean.
You might have thought you knew everything about the maya site of Xunantunich in San Jose Succotz, but for the past two nights, we've been showing you exciting new finds that have been made at that ancient city.
Well, The final part of the Xunantunich feature series focuses on the discovery of a scribal room at the El Castillo structure.
Archeologists were finally able to decode the graffiti on the walls of this room last week. Here's what we saw:
The El Castillo structure stands 30 meters, or a hundred feet high at the south-eastern side of the central plaza. It is the second tallest building in Belize and it was once a palace that housed the royal Maya rulers of Xunantunich. While you can take in its grandeur on the ground level.
As you mount the steps, you truly appreciate its towering magnificence.
Texas Professor Dr. Katherine Brown has had 5 years to explore and embrace this site. But it's only until 3 years ago that Brown and her students uncovered a secret stairway that led to this room. After extensive excavation, the walls and what was drawn and painted on them began to appear.
They might look like careless scribbles and sketches done by kids. But according to Dr. Brown these images were purposeful and artistic
Dr. Katherine Brown - Professor, University of Texas "What we discovered was on this door jamb initially where some really beautifully executed incised images that some are more graffiti like and others are obviously rendered by an ancient artist or scribe. And this individual as you can see here is sort of a royal individual with diamonds and his head dress holding something out in front with a belt element hanging down. And this particular image would be something you would see similarly depicted on ceramic vessel, like an elite vessel."
But these ancient scribes didn't just construct this room and randomly draw on these walls – it was precisely sectioned off:
Dr. Katherine Brown - Professor, University of Texas "The Maya inscribed panels like a register where they've cut here and here and here across the entire register of this room. It's been incised into small registers here and in these registers there's individual types of iconography or carved images and this one over here particular is really interesting. You see a jaguar head carved into the stone and you see another jaguar head an exact replica of that jaguar head. Another exact replica, another one; this one isn't quite as well preserved but you can see that they were trying to repeat and tracing and basically learning how to write or incise these particular type of images."
The archaeologists are calling this room a Maya scribal academy. But the secret passageway leading into it, suggests that it was a sacred and highly restricted area.
Courtney Weatherburne ""Who were actually allowed to be in this space?"
Dr. Katherine Brown- Professor, University of Texas "Well that's a really good question. At this point we don't know. What we do know is that the staircase was fairly narrow and the access way would not have been available for just anyone. Probably individuals were either living in the group behind the Castillo might have had access, could have come along on the pathway and the staircase or other individuals that probably were elites; elite individuals that had access to this particular room."
"I can envision that as scribe either lived or used this room and that people of elite teenagers or young adults would be coming up the secret staircase to learn about; to sort of gain that knowledge that scribal knowledge, to carry it on."
And Professor Brown and her team plan to carry on and conserve that knowledge through specialized photographic techniques.
Dr. Katherine Brown- Professor, University of Texas "We are in the process of trying to document all of these incised elements as well as the painted elements as you see here, there's a painted portion of some kind of an individual down here. There is part of a glyph cartouche which would have been on the outer portion of the glyph and well as some painted elements in here that are not well preserved. With high photographic technique we'll be able to sort of pull out this image and get a better understanding of what this mural element looked like."
Apart from the images themselves, what is truly compelling is that this room holds the largest array of Maya graffiti ever found in Belize. But although archaeologists are unravelling more about Xunantunich through this scribal room, the sacred burial site and the panel, there is still so much to be found and researched.
Dr. John Morris - Director, Institute of Archeology "Xunantunich is one of our premier sites that a lot of people come to visit. But it's also a site that is ed enacted to us in fact that we don't really know the full story of the ancient Maya occupation at this. And so over the years we've been doing further excavation and reach trying to figure out what took place at Xunantunich."
Now the next long process that follows is the conservation of these discoveries. We spoke to Chief Conservator and he told us what that process entails and why it is important.
Jorge Can - Archaeologist Conservator "We come and we do the conservation. Actually we do the planning, we do a profile, we do the lime drawing and then from there we move the stones and dismantle them. For example we have over there some of the stones that we come and reintegrate back again in the same place and the mortar we use the white lime with the white marl."
Dough Tilden - Independent Researcher "When I come down it's both excavate and learn more about the Maya and hopefully contribute a little bit to our understanding but also to be able to conserve these buildings; so that helps particularly in tourism because I think tourism is the economic engine that both helps the country and helps the investigation of the Mayan heritage."
And while that’s how the archaeologists are spending their summer, kids from Methodist schools were doing it today learning about art and Spanish, and taking music lessons. They’re doing it right beside our studio where Emanuel Pech was pulled in by the sound of drums:…
And while those students are keeping their brains active during the summer break, 75 five school kids from Belize City will start the upcoming school year with some brand new school bags, thanks to the Belize City Council and Diamonds international. This small but meaningful donation was done to mark the culmination of the 2016 City Council Summer Camp Program. We spoke to the coordinators who told us what the kids learned this week.
The program has been held annually for the past four years.
For the entire week, you've been hearing about the different parts of the William "Danny" Mason saga, including the most horrifying element that he is the mastermind behind the beheading of Pastor Llewelyn Lucas.
Separate from the fine-tooth comb with which the media has been investigating Mason and his life in Belize, are the family and friends of Pastor Lue who are still trying to come to terms with his gruesome murder. Today, Plus TV Station Owner Louis Wade and Sharon Palacio, who is one of Pastor Lue's relatives discussed a candlelight vigil that they are putting together on Monday night in his honour. They told us why they want people from all over the country to join them:
Sharon Palacio - Pastor Lue's Family Member "As we know grieving is never easy. Losing a loved is naturally rough and the news we received and the way it happened it is beyond our comprehension so there's no way I can say that; it's something we can't describe, it is horrible. You can imagine that even people who are not directly related, the entire country is mourning, everybody is mourning so you can image the immediate loved ones. You can imagine the atmosphere. Words cannot describe nor cannot express."
Louis Wade - Plus TV "I've always said that in honour of people who die when we are moved by it that we need to do something for the living and so I was very glad that the family was willing to say yes this is something that Lue would have wanted. And I want to encourage people because the first set of anything that the logo will go on are these shirts for Llewellyn Lucas to encourage people because the funding from these shirts for the vigil for whatever takes place in the near future will go to the family. Because the family is now left with the financial burden, with the emotional burden, with the spiritual burden; all of the burdens and for many of us we give our condolences, we put RIP and then we move on."
Sharon Palacio - Pastor Lue's Family Member "This vigil as I shared widely will be held on Monday the 25th. We will assemble at the May Gordon Park at 6 o'clock and the idea is to bring the entire country together. To look at what is happening in our country and to send a clear message that we're al vulnerable; that violence is something we should not take lightly."
The Vigil takes place on Monday evening at 6. Wade's facebook movement called, "Belize #Iwantmycountryback", is active and it is taking orders for the Pastor Lue T-Shirts. All proceeds will go toward assisting the family with the financial burdens they now have.
The classically trained musicians who work at the Pallotti Music School are preparing for a grand concert. It's an event called the Piano and Violin Concert which happens on Sunday evening. This evening, the organizers gave us a preview of the musical spectacle they have in store:
Alobi Young - Piano Teacher, Pallotti "This weekend what we have planned is a piano and violin concert. We say piano and violin because it's basically just solo performances. We have a couple students who will also be on stage but for the most parts it solo performances. The thing is what I found in Belize is we have a lot of orchestral concerts; either the national youth orchestra Belize or Coral Society. All these guys they come out and they do group work but we never really had solo performances in Belize. And I find the only time we really have it is either when Franky Reneau, you know the great Franky he comes and he does his thing on the piano or he foreign musicians who come in on the violin or other instruments and they do their solo performances. And in Belize especially at Palotti we're one of the leading music schools, we have a lot of talented musicians here; talented teachers. We have Ms. Chelsea Thompson who will be playing with us. Ms. Cindy Burgos, they are both going to be doing violin solos. They are extremely talented and I think it's about time we started show casing Belizean talent, Belizean musicians. Not in cortex or orchestra but doing solo performances."
Chelsea Thompson - Violin Teacher, Pallotti "What makes me passionate is how I feel when I play songs so if it has a different type of sound I get excited to actually play it and perform it. It makes me happy almost so for me to feel that I want to actually share it with the public."
Alobi Young - Piano Teacher, Palotti "I'll be performing really the big one for the Beethoven Piano Sonata; The Pathetique. It does require a lot of skill to be honest. Technique wise and expression wise and stuff but another piece that I really loved that I will be doing one of my favourites is Debussy Clair De Lune. I think a lot of people in Belize especially know Clair De Lune; it's in all the movies, I'm doing the piano version of it so. It's mostly a classical concert as I said. We have Liszt, Debussy, Beethoven; the violins they are doing very classical composers as well."
The concert starts at 4:00 and takes place at the Bliss Centre. Tickets can be bought at CY's Music at $20 for adults and $10 for kids.
A popular Spanish-reggae band from Panama is here in Belize to perform for FREE this weekend. The band called “Cellula,” arrived in the City late this evening the bad leader stopped by our studio, and told this is his second time and he plans to make it memorable for his fans:
The band performs on Saturday at the Welcome Center in Cayo at 7:30 pm and on Sunday at the Queen Elizabeth Park in Orange Walk at 6 pm. Again both concerts are being organized by the NICH and are absolutely free.