If Guyana possessed a “sharp and competent prosecution system” then questions and doubts about whether justice would be had from those damning forensic audits would not even exist.
This was the perspective of Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge, as he weighed in on the concerns expressed recently by outgoing Deputy Chief of Mission, Bryan Hunt and UK High Commissioner, Greg Quinn.
Greenidge said that he agrees with the top foreign diplomats that those who have been found by the audits to have committed any financial wrongdoing must be prosecuted. But Greenidge said that while those sentiments are taken in good faith, Government on the other hand is battling a reality which deals with the expectations of the public.
The Minister said that he is aware that the citizenry is growing tired of hearing “all the talk about we want corruption to be out and we will ensure prosecution…”
“But when they don’t see these things happening swiftly they begin to wonder if we are responsible for what is taking place. This government wants what is best for this nation. We want to see action taken on these forensic audits but people must understand that Cabinet is not the one in charge of that,” the Foreign Affairs Minister expressed.
He added, “We are clearly faced with weaknesses in some of our key institutions which are part of the process. Cabinet has issued instructions for the files to be examined and investigated by the police and for prosecutions to be executed where they could be had.
“But the problem we are facing with these forensic audits is with the competence of the institutions. People also need to understand that prosecutions are not waiting on some Cabinet decisions. Furthermore, there has been no refusal of the Cabinet to prosecute.”
The Foreign Affairs Minister reiterated that Cabinet is interested in prosecution and has spoken about the forensic audits on numerous occasions.
“But if you had a sharp and competent prosecution system here and good judges then you won’t be asking those questions about whether or not we are going to see results. The reality is that the system is very weak,” Greenidge added.
Asked whether Government has reached out for international support, the Foreign Affairs Minister answered in the affirmative, “A member state from the international community is particularly interested in helping us in securing successful prosecutions and they have told us that they will help us when that time comes.”
US envoy, Bryan Hunt, had made his views on this subject very clear during an exclusive interview with this publication. Hunt stressed that it is important for the Guyana Government to take action against those who stole or mismanaged state assets as documented in several forensic audit reports.
The Deputy Chief of Mission said that he is indeed “alarmed” at the findings of the forensic audits which were launched by the coalition administration. Hunt said that he is worried anytime he observes the level of deep-seated corruption and lack of procedures that apparently existed.
The envoy, who has served in Guyana for three years, said that he is not going to take a view on who is responsible for the state of affairs. He commented that that is for the courts and law enforcement officials to determine.
Hunt said, however, that the fact that the audits have unearthed so many irregularities is alarming to him, given that he represents a major international donor to Guyana.
“And I would hope it is alarming to every Guyanese taxpayer, because a lot of that is basically your money that went missing which should have been used appropriately to benefit the people,” the official added.
Hunt asserted that while Government needs to allow law enforcement officers to do their investigations, he is not suggesting in any way that the process of doing so needs to be rushed.
The US diplomat said, “It has to be done systematically and the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) needs to do its investigations. We need to develop solid evidence that can successfully prosecute and convict those who were responsible for the irregularities and the missing money.”
Hunt added, “We love to use the word irregularities, but what we are really talking about is theft. We need to figure out who stole the money. We need to figure out where it is and prosecute those people and if you recover any money, then it is even better. I would love to see money brought back into the state treasury, but I think first and foremost you have got to convict those responsible. If you don’t, then there is no deterrent…”
While noting that Government should make moves to prosecute those who were found to have been involved in various financial irregularities, the Outgoing Deputy Chief of Mission articulated that focus should also be placed on determining the vulnerabilities in the system “that allowed persons to be able to walk into a ministry and drive off with vehicles.”
It was in May 2015 that the Granger-led administration began expending some $133M of taxpayers’ dollars on 45 of the 50 forensic audits to ascertain how the assets of the state were sold, disposed of or transferred under the previous administration.
The remaining five audits were sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Over 20 forensic audit reports have been released thus far for the public to peruse.
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