Jan 25, 2017 News
By Kiana Wilburg
After 20 months of waiting, the State Asset Recovery Agency Bill will finally be taken to the
National Assembly next Monday. This is according to the Order Paper for the 60th sitting of the House.
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, is expected to present the Bill on behalf of the Government.
The Bill will pave the way for the official establishment of a State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) in consonance with the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) 2003.
It is to be headed by a Director who shall be a corporation sole. The Agency will be empowered by way of the legislation, to recover through civil proceedings, State property which was unlawfully acquired by a public official or any other person. The entity will also provide for investigations leading to the granting by the High Court, Restraint and Civil Recovery Orders in respect of unlawfully acquired property. SARA will also have the power to engage in international cooperation in the recovery of stolen assets of States within the contemplation of the Act, and for related matters.
At the moment, this agency is in the form of a State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) – a department of the Ministry of the Presidency. It is headed by Professor Clive Thomas. Its Chief Executive Officer is Major (rtd.) Aubrey Heath-Retemyer.
Head of SARU, Dr. Clive Thomas has on numerous occasions, spoken to the importance for attention to be placed on recovering stolen public assets.
He said that the “rampant corruption under the 23-year rule of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) should not be ignored”. Dr. Thomas stated that any new government pursuing good governance would seek to recover the nation’s assets, which were mismanaged in “some of the most despicable and corrupt ways.”
He had said, “A clear line must be drawn against past illicit/corrupt behaviour in order to prevent their future repetition.”
He asserted that the corruption that has been taking place in Guyana can be deemed public and not private, because it is based on fraudulent public procurements contracts; illegal capital flows, particularly illicit mis-invoicing of exports and imports and illicit financial transactions; and an underground economy that is driven principally by criminal endeavours and the evasion of taxes.
Dr. Thomas believes that the new administration can make bountiful gains by eradicating certain practices. The economist projected that the APNU+AFC government could rake in $21B in total revenues, once illicit siphoning off practices are halted.
Professor Thomas also said that those who held authority over state assets under the previous administration will be subject to “rigourous” audits, preparations for which are already underway.
The Economist said that this comes in light of the “hundreds upon hundreds of complaints” that come in on a daily basis to the Asset Recovery Unit, regarding individuals who held high office and abused or allegedly stole state assets.
Dr. Thomas said that by all legal means necessary, his entity’s mandate to return or regain what rightfully belongs to the state, will be achieved.
He noted that under the previous regime, the assets of the state were “misused and in some cases stolen in unconscionable ways.” He said that he will make it his duty to see that due process is followed and that justice is served.
The Head of the Asset Recovery Unit stated, “I cannot begin to tell you the amount of complaints we get on a daily basis on persons under the previous government who abused assets of the state and in some cases, the evidence would strongly suggest that they stole it for their own benefit or the benefit of a third party. So we have our job cut out for us.”
He noted however that in order for this to be done, the entity must be legally empowered to prosecute and this comes from having its own legislation.
SARU officials who spoke with Kaieteur News made it clear that in the case of the SARA Bill, there are no new offences being created which would prohibit the body from going after those wrongdoers of the past.
They stressed that a quick look at the offences as listed in the SARU Draft Legislation would prove this.
According to the Bill, “if a person knows or suspects that an authorized officer is acting or proposing to act in connection with a civil recovery investigation which is being or is about to be conducted, the person commits an offence, if – (a) the person makes a disclosure which is likely to prejudice the investigation; or (b) the person falsifies, conceals, destroys or otherwise disposes of, or causes or permits the falsification, concealment, destruction or disposal of, documents which are relevant to the investigation.”
The Bill also states that a financial institution commits a summary offence if without reasonable excuse; it fails to comply with a requirement imposed on it under a customer information order.
It says too that, “a financial institution commits a summary offence if, in purported compliance with a customer information order, it – (a) makes a statement which it knows to be false or misleading in a material particular, or (b) recklessly makes a statement which is false or misleading in a material particular.”
Additionally, the Bill says, “A person who makes or sends a threat to or, in any way intimidates or menaces, or assaults or attempts to assault a member of staff of SARA, or any member of the family of a member of staff of SARA commits an offence.”
Another aspect of the Bill which deals with offences says, “A person commits an offence if without reasonable excuse, he fails to comply with a requirement imposed on him under a disclosure order.”
The SARU officials made it clear that these offences do not in any way inhibit the body’s powers when it becomes an agency to go after officials who stole assets from the state.”
The officials said, “What the citizenry must understand is the fact that stealing state assets or fraudulently converting it for one’s own gains is captured in different ways in many other aspects of our financial laws. Therefore, this Bill when it becomes law will empower SARA to act and enforce those aspects of the law which already speak to stolen state assets and can be recovered via the courts”.
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