…Says Jordan must refrain from such statements
By Kiana Wilburg
For all the talk, the Government has about illegal proceeds belonging to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), it is yet to present a single shred of evidence to support such a claim.
This contention was recently made by Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo during a briefing with the media.
During that engagement, the former Head of State articulated that Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, in particular has been in a habit of saying that drugs and money laundering propped up the economy for some time under the administration of the PPP. Jagdeo said he was pleased however to hear that the Private Sector Commission (PSC) has challenged Jordan to provide evidence in this regard. Jagdeo said that such statements by Jordan cannot be left to become slogans.
The Opposition Leader said, “You want to bet that Jordan will never do that? That he has no such evidence? He has absolutely no such evidence. The buoyancy of the country had to do with several things. (It had to do with a) growing set of economic activities, growing tax base, larger deposits…more people borrowing and investing…All of that led to the buoyancy that we saw.”
Jagdeo said that the converse ills that are taking place now include bad loans in the banking system and now new investments in the country.
He said, “If there was so much money laundering or drug trafficking, have you ever seen them charge a single money launderer or drug trafficker (of significance) in the last three and a half years, or even (for) illegal proceeds? So what is happening? The State Asset Recovery Agency keeps saying it will look into the matter and the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) is still running behind a few of us…So where is this big money that kept the economy going?”
Under the former regime, Guyana lost $28 to $35B every year through procurement fraud, $90B through illicit capital flight, and $188B through the underground economy. This adds up to a grand total of $306-$313 billion per year.
This is actually a “conservative” numerical image of the state of corruption under the former administration.
The aforementioned, among other statements, was noted by SARA earlier this year.
SARU officials said that, “Before the change of Government, the nation was losing $28-$35 billion each year through procurement fraud. With regard to illicit capital flight, the nation was losing $90 billion every year. Furthermore, the underground economy caused the nation to lose $188 billion per year. This adds up to a grand total of $306-$313 billion per year, which is a conservative figure as according to several international agencies, this amount is grossly understated.”
Given the purposes of the Bill and the damaging losses to the economy as stated above, SARU said that it is imperative that the Bill 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. SARA officials have said that the establishment of the entity is geared toward these purposes.
BUT NO SUCCESS
It wasn’t until 2017 that the National Assembly passed legislation for SARU, which then became the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) to be established.
With that accomplishment, many critics of SARA expected that with the accusations and reports of corruption it often spoke of, SARA Directors would have at least two cases ready for the courts in 2018. But it appears that retrieving stolen assets is easier said than done.
SARA’s Deputy Director, Aubrey Heath-Retemyer explained that the entity is facing several challenges. One debilitating factor he pointed to was the budget cuts in 2018. He noted that the entity’s budget proposal for 2018 was slashed by more than 30 percent. It only got about $200M. The SARA Director noted that the budget cuts affected the extent to which investigations could have been carried out. He said that plans to use international companies, which are versed in asset recovery had to be placed on the back burner since the funds were not available.
“The government needs to be prepared to invest significant quantities of cash upfront because of the extent of the searching and investigation that would be required to locate state assets. When people steal these assets, they don’t have them lying round. They change form and even jurisdictions and in that sense, government should make a conscious effort to try and understand the budgeting needed to track these assets funds.”
The Deputy Director also addressed criticisms that SARA is moving at a snail’s pace, especially as it relates to bringing cases before the court.
“Our job is not to just take cases to court. Since we have been established, we have done many things. We have worked through a number of other agencies to get things done. We worked with the various regions and that work allowed us to slow down theft and leakages. If we don’t do that kind of work, then there will continue to be corruption…”
Heath-Retemyer also called for there to be an appreciation of the time it takes to carry out investigations. He stressed that it often involves going after 20 to 30 pieces of evidence to build a case. Heath-Retemyer noted, too, that Guyana being a paper society also makes the job of compiling evidence even more tedious.
“Guyana is a paper society and we have a lot of minutes and so forth that we might want. But when you go for these things, you are thrown in a room with lots of boxes. Then you have to get about 10 people to filter through that. These things are time consuming and when you get all these things and prepare a report on the case, you have to get another set of eyes to look at it.”
Further to this, the Deputy Director said that SARA is working with a few international partners. He said that this is necessary since some of the cases involve certain pieces of information, which are beyond these shores. He said that there are no signed contracts with these partners. Heath-Retemyer noted however that there is an agreement between SARA and the Caribbean Institute of Forensic Accounting.
“The Caribbean Institute of Forensic Accounting is helping us with a number of things that we may not have the technical competence of doing. There are others that we are courting and discussing agreements with because some cases would be brought in Guyana and others outside, depending on where the evidence is found.”
The Deputy Director said that SARA hopes to rest several cases at the same time. “We are pretty close to doing that albeit we have said that many times. We are the first agency doing this kind of work and we want to do it properly. We want to ensure that when we take them before the court, they are properly done and ready.”
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