After I read in the media that Eric Phillips of SARA (he has since resigned) said that he cannot disclose the names of the two owners of plots in Pradoville 2 that settled with SARA by paying $20 million each for their plots to avoid litigation, I called Phillips.
He said that only Thomas can speak to the press about such matters. Naturally, I turned to Thomas. For our conversation, see my column of Wednesday, June 10, 2019, “Pradoville 2 nondisclosure clause: Sad country”). Thomas in that interview didn’t know that Phillips had spoken to the press and had publicized the two acts of settlement. He asked that I send him Phillips’s statement, which I flatly refused to do for two reasons.
I am not going to let Thomas question my media integrity. I told Thomas I read it and I cited where. I am not an overnight media worker, so Thomas would want me to verify my journalism. Secondly, that is Thomas’s work, not mine – to ask Phillips what he told the media.
Thomas said the law prevented him from naming the two persons who paid up. I subsequently found out by reading the law that it does not. It says nothing about SARA being restricted by law from naming people who have settled. Six weeks after my column on Thomas’s misleading statement, he was interviewed by the Stabroek News about the non-disclosure issue.
The item was carried in the July 22, 2019 edition of that newspaper. I provide an extract from the news report; “Thomas told Stabroek News that providing names (to Kissoon) is the worst possible thing he could do, because the information would have been published. “It will be very contentious given the implications that I leaked…the information. He is not going to use it responsibility (sic) so I said that I cannot give any information.”
Now let us discuss who is responsible and who is foolish. SARA is an anti-corruption agency that is charged with recovering state assets that is alleged were transferred to private citizens during the reign of presidents Jagdeo and Ramotar. The reader should note that the operative word in SARA’s functionalism is “state” meaning public property.
Prior to the formation of SARA by legislation, a forensic audit was done of the totality of the operations at Pradoville 2. Information was released to the public of who were the recipients of the lots awarded cheaply by the Jagdeo regime. Public mention was made of the fact that Minister Priya Manickchand built and sold to businessman, David Narine. All of this information was put in the public domain.
There are three things to note about Thomas telling me and the Stabroek News that he cannot identify the names of persons who agreed to pay. First he cites the law under which SARA is canopied. Unless I am illiterate, then I am contending that there is nothing in that legislation to prevent publication of names of recipients who have chosen to pay market value.
Secondly, such transactions are not covered by law. Nondisclosure can only exist if the legal papers drawn up between SARA and the settlers prevent identification. Thirdly, corruption cases worldwide are matters of public concern if the assets are state property. A businessman accused of an illegal relation with a bank and they settled can be deemed as a private transaction.
How can an anti-corruption agency of the state, pursuing beneficiaries of government nepotism and financial venalities, protect the identities of those that are accused? In no other country that can happen except Guyana. Robert Persaud went public with his suggestion that he would be willing to pay the market value. Once he made his position known and he followed through with a settlement with SARA then how can that information be kept secret?
Thomas has not an ounce of plausibility in his pronouncement that the law prevents him from publication of the settlements. Here is my thinking on what happened. Both settlers in the drafting of the legal papers requested anonymity and SARA agreed. This is not how the nation’s business should be conducted. There cannot be secrecy in anti-corruption investigations.
What Thomas is doing, is withholding the identity of those who benefitted from presidential nepotism, and what is ironic about Thomas’s nonsense is that the very organization that Thomas heads is charged with exposing that nepotism.
I end on a funny note which captures the funny operation of SARA. Booby Ramroop has been taken to court by SARA. Suppose he pays up, will Thomas refuse to say that Ramroop settled?
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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