insists SARA, SOCU obligated to probe current officials too
The charges for misconduct in office against the former Minister of Finance and the former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) is a welcome disruption to impunity for corruption and malfeasance in office that exists in Guyana, the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI) said yesterday.
According to the corruption watchdog body, yesterday, in a statement, TIGI is neither taking a position against Dr. Ashni Singh and Winston Brassington nor attempting to pronounce on their guilt.
Singh was the former Finance Minister, of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) while Brassington headed NICIL.
Both were slapped recently with fraud-related charges relating to their alleged role in the sale of state properties.
The two immediately challenged the charges in the High Court with their PPP/C insisting that it is victimisation.
“Given that charges have been filed, we leave it to the court to determine the outcome. In this regard, the pronouncements made by politicians on these matters even while the cases are before the courts are improper and appear as attempts to pervert the course of justice and play on the emotions of the citizens,” TIGI stressed.
TIGI says it is also welcoming the attempt to institute charges against current ministers of government for their conduct in office.
“There are legitimate questions to be answered in relation to the Sussex Street pharmaceutical bond deal, procurement in the health sector and the D’Urban Park project. With respect to these matters, private charges against Dr. George Norton (former Minister of Health, now Minister of Social Cohesion), Ms. Volda Lawrence (Health), Winston Jordan (Finance), David Patterson (Public Infrastructure) and Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine (Public Service) were filed, but were disallowed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on procedural grounds.”
TIGI said it believes that any current or former government official or employee who mismanaged or misappropriated state resources, should be held accountable and where appropriate, be made to make amends inclusive of returning what was taken or given away.
“As long as there is merit in the matters identified, the currency of alternative motives is of little importance. Hence, given the matters involved, we hold to our view whether or not it is perceived that the charges stemmed from retaliatory politics.”
In order to end impunity for corruption, the undocumented buddy system in which the major political camps agree to criticise, but not prosecute each other for malfeasance must end, the body urged.
“Public officers must know that they will be held accountable for what they do with public resources.”
TIGI said it agrees that the proper procedures must be followed in all legal matters.
However, there are unanswered questions about the path taken by the DPP to disallow the charges against current ministers of Government.
Police can investigate
TIGI pointed out that even if a challenge to the decision of the DPP is made, there is nothing preventing Anil Nandlall in his capacity as the attorney who filed the private criminal charges from following what was indicated by the DPP, and reporting the matters to the police to begin a new process.
“It is important to note that the DPP has not, as far as we are aware, pronounced on the merits of the allegations. TIGI encourages both a challenge of the DPP’s decision and reporting the matters to the police.”
The body noted that in the debate about the charges against former officials in the press and in social spaces, political motivation, race and the fact that only former officials have been charged by police’s Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) have been cited.
TIGI noted that that SARA (State Assets Recovery Agency) was established subsequent to the 2015 change in government and the legal framework for SARA was finalised more recently.
“The first set of cases that SARA was expected to address were those that would be based on the findings of the forensic audits that were done post-elections. Given that the forensic audits focused on the operations of the previous government it would seem illogical to expect that the first (and perhaps several subsequent) set of charges would not be against members of the former government.”
In fact, the body said, prior to the charges, the PPP/C had used the very fact that no charges were filed to criticise the current government and to claim vindication.
“The current PPP/C rhetoric therefore appears to amount to taunting the government about its inability to take action then crying foul when action is taken.”
On the matter of race, the body said that one only needs to ask who the holders of public offices and of senior posts in the public service in the period covered by the forensic audits were.
“Of course, this does not mean that only people of a particular ethnicity held all the offices, but probability would seem to be in favour of individuals of East Indian descent.
“It is therefore likely that when former public officials are charged, many would be of East Indian descent without automatically evidencing racial profiling.”
TIGI, however, said that this does not mean that there is no racial profiling.
“Instead, it merely means that a charge of racial profiling would require more substantive justification than that provided to date, and should not involve omission of the fact that the first case filed and which is still on-going is against two individuals – former Minister Jennifer Westford and the Chief Personnel Officer Margaret Cummings – who are of African descent. “
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