Saturday, 14.01.2012, 01:21pm (GMT-6)
By Rowland A. Parks
The Social Security Board (SSB)’s Chief Executive Officer Merlene Bailey-Martinez and SSB’s Internal Auditor Denise Mahler are both on administrative leave as of Wednesday, January 11th, 2012.
The suspensions of the two senior SSB staffers follows a release from the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) that suggested that some of the SSB’s employees had used inside information to try and benefit from the Prime Minister’s $17 million loan write-off program.
The Social Security Board convened an emergency meeting on Wednesday at its Belize City headquarters to discuss the allegations.
According to SSB Chairman, Lois Young,the board decided that the matter will be investigated by a team of external auditors.
“We have suspended the Chief Executive Officer and the Internal Auditor for two weeks initially, and in any event, until the investigation is completed”, she announced.
Young refused to say which external body will be doing the investigation, and she also refused to say on what grounds Bailey-Martinez and Mahler were suspended. She said the Board would also interview more people at SSB “including the two officers who have been suspended, and then come to a final decision.”
The PUP release also purported that Bailey-Martinez had obtained a mortgage loan which had been dramatically reduced to enable her to benefit from the GOB mortgage write off program.
“Furthermore it is alleged that certain ‘select’ members of the staff of the SSB had obtained loans at commercial banks and other lending institutions in Belize to reduce their mortgages to below $50,000 in order to benefit as well.”
The release went on to suggest the select members of staff had been promised that once the balances are forgiven, these same staff members would be facilitated with SSB staff loans to pay back the commercial banks, to be able to pay at concessionary rates on any amount still owed.
“If this program was ever meant to help struggling Belizeans, then what is allegedly happening at the SSB, could only be described as a travesty,” said the PUP release.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow first announced the program in his New Year’s address. He promised that government would buy the SSB mortgages and write off mortgage loans that are $50,000 or less.
Prime Minister Barrow had told The Reporter that while the mortgages’ nominal value is $17 million, with60% of them being non-performing loans, the mortgages’ true aggregate value is closer to $6.9 million.
PM Barrow said the initiative is to benefit 782 homeowners, who would now have more spending money to help stimulate the economy.
Bailey-Martinez’s suspension comes as a surprise to many who had viewed her as a public officer with long years of service and an unblemished record.
She served as one of two Commissioners on the Commission of Inquiry into the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), after the unexpected death of the Commission’s Chairman, David Price.