The State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) is responsible for the civil recovery of state property obtained through the unlawful conduct of a public
official or other person, or any benefit obtained in connection with that unlawful conduct
These recoveries are made by way of civil proceedings taken in the High Court for a civil recovery order.
However, SARA requires a number of tools before it can effectively function in accordance to its duties.
Since it came into operation two years ago, Deputy Director of the Agency, Aubrey Heath-Retmeyer explained that SARA has met its fair share of challenges along the way. While the agency is being criticized for, among other things, not performing as it should, Heath- Retmeyer said that the nation can be assured that is not the case.
“SARA has been in operation for two years and only about a year and half ago, we got lawyers. When SARA takes cases to Court, it is not about common sense; we need lawyers who properly prepare these cases with a high possibility of winning.”
Heath -Retmeyer said that SARA has at least 10 cases engaging the Court‘s attention. The cases are specifically drawn from forensic audits conducted on various agencies. The cases involve money, land and buildings, belonging to the State. However, the Agency has faced several challenges in gathering evidence to prove its cases.
“I have said repeatedly that SARA’s challenge is not getting the forensic audits and taking it to court. It is being able to gather enough evidence for the case to stand up in Court. We have to take the audit, go through them and gather the evidence before approaching the Court.”
In addition to the issues associated with evidence gathering, Mr Heath – Retmeyer noted that in some cases, there is massive mismanagement of the State’s assets.
“When this administration took office, there was massive confusion of how, for instance, Government vehicles were registered. We had one Government Ministry utilizing the vehicles of another Ministry. There was no proper record kept of who had what… And in many cases no paperwork was available to show ownership of what belonged to the State.”
The SARA official noted that the Agency has been working on a number of State entities to strengthen the accountability systems.
In a previous interview, SARA’s Deputy Director had explained that the entity is facing several challenges. One debilitating factor he had 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 said 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 around.
“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.”
Some two years ago, the coalition administration created the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) to recover stolen state assets. Under the guidance of economist, Professor Clive Thomas, the unit dived into a number of investigations.
But without legal powers, SARU was confined to a straitjacket. There wasn’t much it could do on the hundreds of reports it received about corruption.
It wasn’t until 2017 that the National Assembly passed legislation for SARU which then became the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA).
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 courts in 2018.
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