…but Harmon assures former high-ranking officials will be brought to justice
By Gordon French
Parliamentarians of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) yesterday filed private criminal charges in the Magistrates’ Courts against Government Ministers Volda Lawrence and George Norton.
The two ministers are charged separately with “misconduct in public office contrary to the common law”.
According to court filings, Norton, in June 2016, while serving as Minister of Public Health, authorized the rental of a Sussex Street, Albouystown property for the purposes of a drug bond, from Linden Holdings Incorporated, for $12.5M per month.
Norton had come under immense public pressure and was part of a Cabinet reshuffle that saw him being reassigned to the post of Minister of Social Cohesion, and subsequently received the additional appointment as Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport.
Lawrence, who assumed the Public Health Minister post, is accused of the unapproved single-sourcing of $605.9M in drugs and medical supplies from Ansa McAl Trading Ltd. for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) between January and February, 2017.
The charges were filed exactly one week after the identical charge was filed by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) against top PPP officials, Dr. Ashni Singh, former Minister of Finance, and Mr. Winston Brassington, the former head of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
Shortly after 9 a.m. PPP Parliamentarian, Anil Nandlall, who filed the charges, appeared at court’s office accompanied by his colleagues Juan Edghill and Vickram Bharrat. The charge against Lawrence is filed in Edghill’s name, while the Norton charge is filed in Bharrat’s name.
Attorney Euclin Gomes is expected to prosecute the case along with Nandlall.
Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan issued summons for Norton and Lawrence to appear before her when the case is scheduled to be heard on April 24.
Nandlall stated that over the past three years, the opposition has been publicly calling on the Guyana Police Force (GPF), SOCU and the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA), to investigate the massive incidence of corruption taking place at the level of the Government.
“These calls have fallen on deaf ears,” Nandlall stated.
He explained that after similar charges were filed against Dr. Singh and Brassington, the PPP decided to ‘take the bull by the horns’ and replicate similar charges against Norton and Lawrence.
According to Nandlall, there is one significant difference between the charges filed by the PPP and those filed against Singh and Brassington by SOCU.
“It is my considered view that our charges not only capture the elements of the offence of Misconduct in Public Office, but the conduct of the Public Officer that is the subject of the charge amounts to real misconduct, both in fact and law. The charges filed by SOCU lack both the elements of the offence in the particulars of the charge, as well as, the conduct which is impugned does not amount to misconduct in fact or in law,” Nandlall pointed out.
The government responded swiftly to the PPP decision to institute charges against the ministers.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon described the PPP’s move as a shameless attempt to draw attention away from malfeasance charges against Singh and Brassington.
According to Harmon, the charges are the PPP’s “cowardly attempt to draw public attention away from its own sordid record of corruption while in office”. Harmon stated that investigations have revealed that during its tenure the nation was losing billions of dollars each year through procurement fraud and other corrupt activities by senior public officials.
“The Guyanese public will not be swayed by the legal shenanigans of the PPP, which, in effect, make a mockery of the legal system. This Government will continue to take the necessary steps to ensure that those who held public office and engaged in malfeasance while in office are brought to justice. We are sure that in the matter before the court, the actions of our ministers will be vindicated,” Harmon stated.
The PPP, according to Harmon, is aware that more charges are soon to be filed against high public officials who served in the Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar administrations.
The senior government spokesman stated that the charges are a result of months of intense investigation by Commissions of Inquiry and evidence gathered by the SOCU.
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