Apr 17, 2017 News
The State Assets Recovery Bill which was recently passed in the National Assembly will grant the State Assets Recovery Agency vast powers. But some critics are saying that the Agency will need the public’s support, and in order to do this, it must be cautious in the manner in which it wields its extensive powers.
Specifically making this comment, among others recently, was former Speaker of the House and attorney-at-law, Ralph Ramkarran.
In his recent writings, Ramkarran noted that the SARA Bill is a valuable addition to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act in the battle against corruption. He noted, however, that it is only the beginning.
“It is hoped that the politics that drove this Bill to the top of the Government’s agenda will now recede in the background and a sustained legislative effort to contain Government corruption and corruption generally will now ensue,” expressed the seasoned lawyer.
Ramkarran stated that equipped with an adequate body of laws, the more difficult task would be to eliminate corruption and create a culture of transparency.
Additionally, Ramkarran said that the SARA Bill is huge, with 107 sections. He noted that it provides for the establishment of the State Asset Recovery Agency, the appointment of its Director and Deputy, their functions and training and cooperation of SARA with other agencies.
The columnist also pointed out that the Bill speaks to the disclosure of information and the fact that this is permitted from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Commissioner of Police, Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Head of Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), Chair of Integrity Commission, Commissioner General, Governor of the Central Bank, Head of the Customs Anti Narcotics Unit (CANU), Chair of the Gold Board, Chair of the Tender Board and a Police Officer not below the rank of Inspector.
Furthermore, Ramkarran observed that the Bill provides for the civil investigation, preservation and recovery of State property which has been obtained through unlawful conduct. He also highlighted the fact that the Bill enables SARA to obtain from the court a wide range of orders such as a restraint order, a civil recovery order, a disclosure order, a customer information order, a production order, an account monitoring order and a search and seizure warrant.
In the meantime, Ramkarran emphasized that there are many serious criticisms of the SARA Bill.
He said that in anticipation of opposition to it, the Guyana Human Rights Association (“HRA) proposed several measures as long ago as August last year to avoid the “risk of prolonging ethnically divided politics.”
It remarked that the appointment of the Director and Deputy Director be “ring fenced” from partisan politics, characterizing the Director as a ‘political commissar’ having regard to the manner of his or her appointment and range of powers given to officers. The PSC has also voiced criticism.
Ramkarran said that the Bill provides for the proposed appointee to be recommended by the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments and approved by the National Assembly.
“This does not satisfy the GHRA’s suggestion of a two-thirds majority because, as Juan Edghill of the Opposition PPP pointed out, the Government has a majority on the Committee and the Assembly. The powers to officers of SARA, in addition to those given under the Bill, include those of a police officer, an immigration officer and a revenue and customs officer, where conferred by the Minister. Many other suggestions were made by the GHRA which were ignored by the Government.”
Although the Opposition has argued that the Bill is unconstitutional and that it will be challenged in Court, Ramkarran said that the main thrust of its concern, expressed in the parliamentary debate held on Thursday last, is that the Bill is directed at the Opposition.
“With the threats of jail or other dire consequences against officials of the last Government that have been pouring out from Government spokespersons, tempered only by exposures of Government’s own misdeeds, it is not surprising that the Opposition feels the way that it does.”
Notwithstanding the above concerns, some of which Ramkarran himself shares, he insists that SARA is a bold and vital instrument in the anti-corruption effort, although modern anti-corruption legislation still remains to be addressed.
Ramkarran also insisted that SARA can be successful.
“But it needs public support. To obtain this it must deploy its vast powers wisely and not overreach by pouncing with a car load of officers to seize a dozen, second hand, unserviceable, computers in opposition strongholds, like third rate policemen going after seasoned bandits. It needs to transform itself from an agency given to highly charged verbal confrontations with politicians to a professionally led and managed agency.”
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