– SARU says Bill necessary to take laser like focus against this scourge
By: Kiana Wilburg
Under the former regime, Guyana lost between $28B and $35B every year through procurement fraud, $90B through illicit capital flight, and $188B through the underground economy.
This adds up. And the analysts say this is actually a “conservative” numerical image of the state of corruption under the former administration.
According to the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), the aforementioned underscores why Guyana needs the passage of the SARA Bill.
This, among other comments were made by SARU last night as it responded to concerns members of the Private Sector Commission might have with the passage of the State Asset Recovery Agency Bill.
SARU officials said that in accordance with Article 54 (1) (c) of the United Nations’ Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), each State Party must “consider taking such measures as may be necessary to allow confiscation of property without criminal conviction”.
The anti-corruption body said that it is in this context, the SARA Bill is designed to facilitate the recovery of illicitly obtained property through civil processes, with the primary objective of reducing the consequential damaging effects of corruption on sustainable development.
SARU said, “The opinions of any Private Sector Commission or equivalent should be principled, balanced and near impartial. Honest business prefers a fair and principled environment. The passage of this Bill will allow the new Agency to direct a laser-like focus on such assets obtained through corruption; the loss of which has frustrated the development of this country.”
In some areas of corruption, SARU officials said that the size of loss speaks for itself.
Given the purposes of the Bill and the damaging losses to the economy SARU said that it is imperative that the Bill be passed immediately.
The anti-corruption body said that the scale of corruption discovered by SARU, to date, is astounding. It said that the Guyanese population is eager to see the country’s assets recovered and appropriate action taken against the perpetrators of corruption. The SARA body stressed that the Bill is geared toward these purposes.
SPECIAL SELECT COMMITTEE
The Private Sector Commission recently expressed dissatisfaction over the fact that consultations held last year on the draft Bill for the State Assets Recovery Agency was perhaps, just for show.
The feeling of the commission is premised on the understanding that the draft Bill, which was initially submitted to stakeholders for discussion, is essentially the same Bill that was laid recently in the National Assembly.
The private sector body recalled that last year, during consultations which were held by the Ministry of Legal Affairs, the Commission and others, obtained legal advice on the Bill regarding its draconian nature and the potential impact it would have on investor confidence.
But even after concerns were submitted to that effect with proposed amendments, the Commission was taken aback after it learnt that the Bill was submitted with no meaningful changes to its provisions.
The Commission, via a letter to the House Speaker, Dr. Barton Scotland, said that it maintains that the provisions of the Bill are in conflict with the rights enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana and constitute a threat to democracy and good governance.
The Private Sector body added, “The Commission therefore humbly beseeches that the State Assets Recovery Agency Bill, as it was tabled, be submitted to a Special Select Committee where its provisions, and implications of these, can be thoroughly examined and debated upon and where civil society may be invited to speak.”
NO CHANGES NEEDED
CEO of the State Assets Recovery Unit, Aubrey Heath-Retemyer told Kaieteur News that the changes proposed by the Commission were based on the fact that they did not understand several aspects of the Bill.
The SARU Officer said that while the Commission was not alone in this boat, efforts were made to ensure that all misunderstandings regarding the Bill were clarified.
He said, “I do recall their concerns with the Bill but the truth is, that the criticisms we received on the Bill were largely due to the fact that people did not understand it and that was the case with the Commission.”
Heath-Retemyer said that there were no “substantial” changes made to the provisions but there was some “tightening of the language used.”
The Bill also provides for SARA to be enabled to seek the recovery of such property wherever in the world that property may be located, and must also raise public awareness on the dangers of corruption and other crime.
As part of the need to maintain and upkeep public confidence in the criminal justice system, Head of SARU, Professor Clive Thomas, explained that the Director must, before undertaking civil recovery proceedings, consider whether the recovery of State property will be better secured by criminal proceedings.
He said that the Director and named members of SARA staff may exercise the powers of police, customs and immigration officers, if so designated by the relevant Ministers, upon the Director’s request.
The Director will also be under a duty to ensure training in the operation of the Act is available to professionals and to ensure relevant staff are trained and accredited in financial investigation.
The SARU Head said that mutual cooperation between the Director of Public Prosecutions and Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit is a requirement, and the Commissioner of Police must provide such assistance as is requested by the Director.
He said that the Director may enter into binding memoranda of understanding with other Government or public bodies, and is able to collaborate with any State organ, foreign government or international or regional organization, in the recovery of State property.
The Bill sets out that the Director is thus authorized to use the funds to commence actions under the Act, to make certain payments e.g. to pay experts to assist him in carrying out SARA functions, to fund training and capacity building, or to compensate victims who suffered loss as a result of unlawful conduct.
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