By Kiana Wilburg
It has been more than a year since the Office of the Ombudsman released two damning reports
and the Government is yet to lift a finger.
Not only is this unacceptable, but Executive Member of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA), Dr. David Hinds says that it represents an insult to the Office of the Ombudsman and a serious democratic deficit.
In an invited comment, Dr. Hinds said that democracy is incomplete if the government ignores the work of democratic institutions.
“If their work is ignored, the institutions are weakened. Why expend resources on institutions when you don’t act on their work and findings? This has become a worrying habit of this government. They did it with the audits, with the Rodney Commission report, and with some of the reports of the other commissions they have set up.”
Dr. Hinds stressed that the work of the Ombudsman is critical to Guyana’s fragile democracy, particularly in an age of rampant government over-reach and corrupt governance.
He opined that the government’s failure to act on the reports on the New Building Society and Freddie Kissoon matters, amounts to turning a blind eye to the transgressions of the previous government—something that has become a frustrating habit.
Dr. Hinds said that if a government which came to office with the expressed promise to go after the gross over-reach of its predecessors ends up sweeping the evidence under the carpet, then it ends up compromising its own integrity.
“If you have the authority to act on injustice and don’t act on evidence before you, then you end up being a symbol of injustice yourself.”
Dr. Hinds emphasised that the government must move very quickly to ensure justice for the citizens who were wronged in the matters pronounced on by the Ombudsman, Justice Winston Moore, or it risks losing whatever credibility it has left.
“And that would be a serious blow to our country’s ability to recover its political sanity and moral centre which took a hammering under the previous government.”
One report deals with the issue of Kaieteur News columnist Freddie Kissoon being wrongfully dismissed from the University of Guyana.
Kissoon was on a contract with the University of Guyana but it was terminated by the tertiary institution in January 18, 2012. This was in spite of the fact that Kissoon’s contract had five months remaining, at the end of which, he would have reached the age of retirement.
Rather than the story that he was dismissed, the University had said that it merely ended the contract earlier, eight months before the contract expired. The contract stipulated that it could be terminated and three months’ salary paid in lieu of notice.
Kissoon did not hear from the University despite several efforts for a reason for why his contract was terminated prematurely.
Following a complaint lodged with the Office of the Ombudsman, UG was notified that the newspaper columnist’s contract being terminated in such a manner breached UG’s regulations. The report on the issue said that he should be compensated.
Since the Ombudsman made this pronouncement in January 6, 2015 no action has been taken by the institution to compensate Kissoon.
THE NBS REPORT
Ombudsman Moore had also ruled on another controversial matter relating to the New Building Society (NBS).
The Office of the Ombudsman concluded in November 2014 that police wrongfully charged the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and two of his Managers of a massive $69M fraud at the New Building Society, in 2006.
The explosive document by the public complaint office was based on complaints by Maurice Arjoon, the former CEO. Arjoon, in his complaint, said he and two Managers, Kissoon Baldeo and Kent Vincent, were deliberately and maliciously charged by police for a $69M scam.
Arjoon said that he believed that the trumped-up fraud charges, later dismissed in the Magistrates’ Court, stemmed from his refusal to lend $2B for the construction of the Berbice River Bridge. The former Government had been seeking financing for the project.
Arjoon reportedly told his Board of Directors that the regulations barred the institution from lending that much. NBS voted to invest $350M in the project.
The CEO claimed that his refusal to illegally lend the $2B angered the then President Bharrat Jagdeo.
Arjoon, who has been insisting his innocence from day one, said in his complaints that over seven years were taken away from his life.
The late Justice Moore, who had sweeping powers to investigate abuse by public officers, hired former Deputy Commissioner of Police, Henry Chester, DSM, who, in reviewing a copy of the police files, found that based on the evidence, there was no way that the three men could have been charged. It was also found that the police files did not include a key exhibit.
Arjoon had filed a high court action to overturn the decision of NBS to dismiss him, saying that he lost his benefits as a result.
The explosive report raised serious questions about the rush by the police to lay charges; the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the role played by the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana.
Since the report was laid in the National Assembly, nothing has happened.
The Government had said that a new Ombudsman would be appointed on or before January 1. But it was amended to being done by March.
An Ombudsman is an official usually appointed by the government or by Parliament, but with a significant degree of independence. Such an official is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or violation of rights.
The typical duties of an Ombudsman are to investigate complaints and attempt to resolve them. Ombudsmen in some instances, also aim to identify systemic issues leading to poor service or breaches of people’s rights.
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