Days after a shocking report that concluded three bank managers were wrongfully charged in 2007, the Alliance
For Change (AFC) has lauded the Office of the Ombudsman for being fearless in its mandate.
AFC, which together with A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) controls the National Assembly, was in high praise for the Ombudsman, Justice Winston Moore.
In the report, the three managers were cleared of the charges, with recommendations for the case to be reopened. The report speaks of a cover-up, missing evidence, and interference from Government and authorities to sway the high-profile investigation in a particular direction.
It has reignited debates and accusations of excesses and abuse by the ruling party over time.
According to Vice-Chairman of AFC, Moses Nagamootoo, the Guyanese people have now seen the reasons why the AFC and other forces have agitated for years for the appointment of an Ombudsman and, by implication, “why a corrupt administration did not want to fill the vacancy”.
It was only in January that Justice Moore was appointed. The Ombudsman has sweeping, independent powers to investigate complaints against public officials.
Nagamootoo said that Justice Moore in his recent findings into the “spiteful” dismissal of NBS officials vindicates his appointment as Ombudsman. The report itself would declare loud and clear, the independence of his office from executive control.
“This is as it ought to be under protection by our Constitution which authorises the Ombudsman to investigate actions
taken not only by government agencies and departments, but by the President and his ministers.”
The AFC official pointed that the President, a minister or a Member of Parliament may ask the Ombudsman to probe any action that has caused an injustice to a person.
“We hope that the no-nonsense approach of Justice Moore would be an invitation to all office bearers under the Constitution to be fearless in the exercise of their functions and not allow themselves to be part of state vendetta against citizens, or to subvert independent authority by leaking confidential information, etc.”
Nagamootoo also urged for the Ombudsman to be provided adequate resources, both financial and administrative, to go after wrongdoers, once authentic complaints are received.
“It is early days yet, and we will await the periodic reports by the Ombudsman to the National Assembly, should it be allowed to operate free from Presidential censorship, before making any definitive conclusions as to how well the office has lived up to expectations.”
In January shortly after Justice Moore was sworn in, former NBS Chief Executive Officer, Maurice Arjoon, filed a complaint with the Ombudsman insisting that he was deliberately and maliciously charged. He claimed that he was set-up after refusing to illegally endorse a proposal to lend Government $2B for the construction of the Berbice River Bridge. The board later voted for a reduced, $350M investment in the bridge.
Arjoon in his complaint claimed that he was told that his decision, taken during a Board meeting in 2006, to not endorse the lending of that $2B had angered former President Bharrat Jagdeo, who was in office at that time. The Board voted for $350M.
Arjoon, and his two managers, Kent Vincent, and Kissoon Baldeo, were all charged in June 2007 for a $69M fraud at the bank.
The charges were later dismissed, but not before the three were sacked for what the NBS Board of Directors said was “dereliction of duty, negligence and serious misconduct”.
Over the weekend, the Ombudsman came under fire from Minister of Labour, Dr. Nanda Gopaul, and Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Ali-Hack. There were questions raised by Gopaul whether the Ombudsman had the jurisdiction to take on the complaint by Arjoon and that NBS was not even given chance to be heard.
However, the Ombudsman in a statement Monday made it clear that Gopaul should re-read the report as it did not mention NBS, save and except that the Ombudsman could not comment on the entity’s decision to sack Arjoon and the two managers.
During the Ombudsman’s investigation of Arjoon’s complaint, special investigator Henry Chester, a former Deputy Commissioner of Police, relied on a copy of the police files. Missing were several pieces of evidence.
Chester in his report to the Ombudsman, hinted at police’s lapses during the investigation, which raised questions over the decision to charge the managers.
Justice Moore said Monday, that should anyone affected by the report make any comment or dispute anything contained in the report, he has to consider the comments and if necessary, revise any finding or statement affected.
He suggested that there is a mechanism for affected persons at his office. The Ombudsman made it clear that he “cannot and will not at this stage debate the report in the press. I repeat, that anyone affected by the report, is at liberty to communicate with me in the proper manner and also the opportunity can be taken by that person to remedy any default.”
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