It sounded like a script suitable for an enthralling soap opera when former First Lady Varshnie Singh reflected on the years of her marriage to President Bharrat Jagdeo, and disclosed the fact that she has been prohibited from accessing State House, where all of her belongings are currently stored.
At a press conference orchestrated just for this purpose, yesterday, Singh said that she returned to State House on Monday last, having returned from a fundraising stint abroad for Kids First Fund, and was denied access on the President’s instruction.
The couple had dissolved their almost 10 years of marriage about two years ago, which according to reports was due to irreconcilable differences.
On January 5 last, Singh said, she received a letter from the President’s lawyer, dated January 2, which requested that she vacate State House within 48 hours, or be denied access.
“I responded with a letter requesting more time. I have asked to keep my room until I return from overseas fundraising activities on April 1, after which I will move out before I take my last batch of children to India for surgery for a while,” Singh revealed.
And due to the undermining turn of events, Singh said, it appears as though she has no choice but to close her Kids First Fund office and move back to the United Kingdom for a while, to earn a living to support her charitable work.
“This is not what I want to do, as Guyana is my home and I have a right to live and work here. Due to this unfair discrimination I am suffering at the hands of our President and his agents, I have no choice,” Singh lamented.
According to the distraught woman, because of the situation, she has no access to her clothing, and thus had only what she was wearing yesterday.
But although Singh expressed a desire to move on with her life, she opined that she is financially incapacitated at the moment.
“I have suffered for the past decade and I want to move on, but don’t have the resources or cooperation to do so,” Singh passionately divulged, even as she pointed out that she is in no way seeking after sympathy.
The former First Lady disclosed that she has plans to raise money to build a state-of-the-art medical facility at Morakai, adding that the progression of the project is dependent on Government’s willingness to sell her the requisite land.
“We offered to buy it from the Government, but I was told by the President he can’t sell state land. We asked for a 99-year lease, but he said he can only give a 25-year lease.”
The notice for the press conference read, “You are invited to a Kids First Fund update: covering activities in 2008; Kids First Fund Hospital and the future of the charity.” The forum turned out to be different.
Late last night, President Jagdeo responded: Yesterday (Monday), I was forced to take steps to have the former First Lady leave the State House. This was a painful decision but I was left with very little choice since, despite numerous promises, she has refused to do so. It was expected that when we announced our separation to the public almost two years ago, she would leave State House, the official residence of the President.
I, at the end of my tenure as President in 2011, would also have to leave the State House.
I suspect she was offended that she had to leave the State House yesterday (Monday) and has issued a press release. I shall not respond to the one-sided account of the period we were together and the many inaccuracies contained in the press release. However, I shall make a few comments on some of the issues raised.
Firstly, I had made it clear to her on more than one occasion that the resources of the State cannot be used to support her private work, however laudable these were. I am disappointed to have noted her claim that I frustrated her work. If by that she is implying that I ought to have unlawfully used the resources of the State to support her private work, then I have no excuse to make. I will not break the law regardless of who is involved.
Kids First Fund is a private charity, and I sought to keep a certain distance from it so as to avoid accusations that the Fund was benefiting from the patronage of the State because of the presence of my wife.
It would be unethical for me to let Kids First Fund and whatever work my wife is engaged with to benefit from Government funding simply because I am President.
She was therefore free to undertake her work with the clear understanding, as she acknowledges, that there were to be no special favours involved.
Varshnie has accepted there is no constitutional or statutory position of First Lady. Thus whatever benefit she received was solely because of her marriage to me. She therefore must have appreciated the ethical dilemma that it would have posed for us to separate but for her to continue to have access to the State resources for her private work.
What example would I have been setting being separated from my wife yet allowing her use of resources of the State to which she was not entitled?
Secondly, the matter surrounding the division of assets has been jointly discussed with my lawyer. I have showed her copies of my declaration of income and assets to the Integrity Commission over the period we were together. I am prepared to meet all my obligations to her provided for by the laws of Guyana.
But I cannot meet her demands (given what I said above) to hand over Government lands and other assets and provide duty and VAT-free concessions as part of the settlement. She could access these as any other eligible Guyanese citizen.
Finally, I don’t intend to get into a public contest with her, I wish her well in the future and I just want to go on with my life.
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