The Lotto Loot: The case of the people of Guyana versus the President of Guyana
When political activist, Mr. Desmond Trotman, recently sued the Jagdeo Government over its failure to pay monies obtained from the Guyana Lottery Company into the Consolidated Fund, and also engaging in the practice of disbursements without parliamentary approval is illegal, not only did he act on behalf of all law-abiding Guyanese, but his action raised the very distressing question: is the Office of the President and or the President of Guyana knowingly engaging in a criminal behaviour?
It is a rather valid question if we are to carefully and honestly analyse the merit of Mr. Trotman’s suit, and rather than look for a simple yes or no answer, I think we need to look at what our options are as a people to have this anomaly addressed expeditiously since this Lotto issue has been recurring each year since the Lotto Fund was set up in 1995.
The Consolidated Fund, into which the Loot funds are supposed to be deposited, is managed by the Office of the President, and which office is headed by the President, and so we have to determine what our legal options are as a people in seeking legal redress since it does appear that either the Office of the President or the President is engaging in criminal behaviour simply because there is a constitutional clause that protects or shields the President against criminal indictments and lawsuits for actions while in office, and against criminal indictments and lawsuits for anything he did while in office after he demits office.
The problem here is not merely the criminal action by the President and or the Office of the President, but the length of time this problem has been going on so that the impression being given is that the President and or his office have absolutely no respect or regard for the law, but fully expects other Guyanese to abide by the law. It is as though when it comes to the President and or his office, the law does not apply, and this could become a recipe for lawlessness at the highest levels of power in the country. Something needs to be done.
To get a clear picture of the government’s intransigence on this issue, we can go back to an SN news article of February 3, 2008, “Public Accounts Committee concerned that Lotto monies still eluding Consolidated Fund.” Back then, the committee noted that some four years after then Auditor-General, Mr. Anand Goolsarran, had pronounced on the irregularity in strong terms, the problem still was not corrected.
Even PNC member and member of the PAC, Mr. Winston Murray, reportedly lamented the fact that since Mr. Deodat Sharma took over as acting Auditor-General from the end of 2004, the reporting on the Lotto funds was very ‘innocuous’, and lacking the direct charge and full frontal manner that Goolsarran had employed.
In the May 18, 2008 SN article, “State got $2.6B in lotto funds up to 2006,” this was the amount of money the state received as its share of the proceeds since the commencement of Lotto and other lottery games in 1995, and up to that time, the monies had not entered the Consolidated Fund but continued to be used by the Office of the President to finance various projects with little or no parliamentary oversight.
In the April 14, 2010 SN article, “Government continues to lapse on deposit of lotto funds,” the Auditor-General’s latest report found that “over a 13-year period, the government has spent over $3B of the proceeds acquired from the Guyana Lotteries Company without parliamentary consent, since the money was never deposited into the Consolidated Fund as legally required.”
Having placed the issue in a brief historical context, therefore, it is no longer a question of whether the President or his office broke the law, but what legal option is available to the people of Guyana against the President and his office.
To help the people in this regard, the documents detailing every transaction should be made available to the people of Guyana on demand, because if the government can break the law regarding the Lotto money, it can do anything illegal with the money and no explaining away of what was done with the money should be accepted at face value.
For example, the 2007 Audit Report disclosed that during the period 1996-2007, amounts totalling $3.107B were received from the lottery company, but the balance on this account as at December 31, 2007 was $52.120M.
Therefore, payments totalling $3.055 billion were made during the period 1996-2007 to meet expenditure. Just what exactly did the President or his office spend all that money on?
How can the President speak out against criminality in Guyana while he and or his office are breaking the law? Matter of fact, with this behaviour now fully magnified to the point where a citizen has taken legal action, can it not be used to help make the argument that this explains in large part why there is so much unchecked corruption in the government?
And how can the Director of Prosecutions and the Police Commissioner feel at ease in their own skin as the pursue charges against ordinary criminals and suspects, when the President and or his office are repeatedly and blatantly breaking the law?
While the concerned people of Guyana look at their legal options against the President and his office, I hope supporters of the President, his government and the PPP are taking note of this criminality that they are troublingly silent on, even as they grow loud in their praise of the President’s awards and the supposed developments under his presidency.
I also hope foreign representatives in Guyana are paying attention to the type of government running the country.
Finally, I wonder why the shockingly silent PNC never did what Mr. Trotman did, opting instead to seek shared governance.