COMMENTARY By Dr. TARA SINGH
Guyana’s Prime Minister, Moses Nagamootoo, describes the PPP’s filing of private criminal charges against PNC Ministers Volda Lawrence (Health) and George Norton (Social Cohesion) for alleged breaches of the procurement rules, as a “mockery of the judicial system.” Really! Was the move by the PPP a mockery of the judicial system?
What could be more than mockery of the judicial system when David Granger unilaterally appointed the GECOM Chair, contrary to the constitution? What’s more mockery than the Ministry of the Presidency supposedly influencing the DPP to drop private criminal charges against two sitting Ministers? What is more mockery than duping the people in 2015 when Nagamootoo and Ramjattan promised farmers $(G) 9,000 per bag of paddy if they were elected, and also proclaimed to the sugar workers that they will give them a 20% pay hike? What is more mockery when Granger himself has violated the constitution on several occasions? For example, he illegally seized rice farmers’ lands on the West Coast of Berbice, and the court had to restore the lands to the farmers. When Attorney General Basil Williams threatened a sitting Judge with violence, was that a mockery? Was it a mockery when Raphael Trotman made disparaging comments on the “3rd term” ruling of the Court of Appeal that were directed at the Acting Chancellor?
Nagamootoo and his colleagues are living a ‘Mercedes Benz life style in a donkey cart economy.’ Just imagine that his boss David Granger has made over 100 overseas’ visits and there has been no report on these to the Guyanese people, and also there appears to have been no substantial benefits derivable from those highly expensive trips? Substantial sums have also been spent on Nagamootoo’s office and residence. Neither Nagamootoo nor Granger seem to care that the economy is heading for a meltdown: foreign reserves have declined sharply, gold reserves have experienced a precipitous drop and the government, according to Sase Singh, has borrowed over $(G48) billion from the Central Bank, which is not a good sign.
To compound the government’s woes is the multiplicity of weaknesses in the Exxon Mobil contract. Even the IMF (international Monetary Fund) has joined the chorus of an unfavorable oil deal for Guyana. It was recently reported by KN that IMF recommends 11 fiscal principles that should be integral to any oil contract. In the Guyana Exxon Mobil contract only 1 of the 11 principles has been adopted. What about the whereabouts and the dodging of the $(US) 18 million signing bonus? Alarming! The contract loopholes keep on expanding. To stem the flow of relentless attacks for their poor negotiating skills and a lopsided Exxon contract, the government has developed a strategy to deflect focus from the Exxon debacle onto other problems, notably on alleged PPP corruption.
The Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan had his government’s enforcement arm, SOCU (Special Organized Crime Unit), slapped charges on former PPP Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh and NICIL Head Winston Brassington for “public misconduct.” The government’s strategy seems to have worked for a while. It pushed away the Exxon contract shortcomings from headlines. However, the PPP struck back, they filed private criminal charges against Volda Lawrence and George Norton. According to Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo, the charges against Singh and Brassington are part of a witch hunt, as the PPP Cabinet had approved those transactions. The sale of those properties were conducted on an open market competitive basis. The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) moved quickly to discontinue the criminal proceedings against Lawrence and Norton on the grounds that such a matter should have been referred first to the police who would have then sought the advice of the DPP. That argument was rejected by former Attorney General Anil Nandlall who says that there is no requirement for the charges to be sent first to the police for investigation.
It will be recalled that Jagdeo was issued with a private criminal charge of race baiting in 2015. That matter was never investigated by the police, but Jagdeo was hauled before the court and even had to surrender his passport. The DPP never intervened in that case; the office remained silent. How could there be such a travesty of justice? Differential enforcement of the law is not only illegal but unconstitutional. Anil announced his intention to seek the High Court’s review of the DPP’s action. Bill R tells us that there is judicial precedence for this move and he cites an appropriate case in Jamaica.
While the DPP has prosecutorial powers, these have to be exercised in accordance with the rules of reason. Decisions cannot be arbitrary. Anil has brought private criminal charges against three other Ministers, namely, David Patterson, Winston Jordan, and Dr Rupert Roopnarine over the Durban Park scandal. We just learnt that the DPP has also discontinued charges against the three Ministers.
Remember, Granger and Basil have been trying hard to bring the office of DPP under their control as part of their grand design to fully establish party paramountcy. They have used intimidation tactics to weaken the DPP. For example, they hauled in the DPP and her husband for questioning on their property at Pradoville 2. It seems that their strategy has worked as the DPP seems to have buckled under the Ministry of the Presidency’s pressures, as she discontinued proceedings against the 2 Ministers. Lawyers familiar with the case say that they had expected the DPP to cave in to government’s pressure. Let’s not forget about the systematic attempts by the government also to marginalize the role of the DPP in prosecutions. Under the pretext that the DPP’s workload it too heavy (something which the DPP denied), and in the interest of speedy justice, the government appointed special prosecutors who work independently of the DPP.
Basil Williams must be savoring his victory at denting the independence of the DPP. Basil has been on a mission to also bring the Judiciary under government’s control. When he gets his boss Granger to unilaterally appoint the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice, then his (Basil’s) mission would have been almost completed. But for Guyana, that would be a tragedy of epic proportion; the independence of the Judiciary would collapse and so would be the doctrine of separation of powers, and Guyanese personal liberty will be in jeopardy. The emblem of Party paramountcy will sit nonchalantly on such buildings as the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
Another misguided effort that they have pursued in the hope of minimizing corruption, was the PNC-arm SARA’s (State Assets Recovery Agency) arrangement of an anti-corruption march last week at which the PPP did not participate citing a number of contradictions. SARA’s head Clive Thomas, a former monetary economist, has repeatedly claimed that the PPP was stealing annually the equivalent of more than the country’s GDP. “….this adds up to a grand total of $(G)306-$(G) 313 billion per year.” Thomas also accuses the PPP of establishing a criminalized state. And speaking about criminalized state, he ignores the Buxton insurrection and their attempts to overthrow the PPP. According to Thomas, Interpol, the United States Homeland Security and the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) have shown the massive scale of corruption and money laundering during the late 2000s to the mid-2010s.” Thomas has once again failed to come up with the material evidence. He ignores the findings of the 40+ forensic audits that do not synchronize with these international reports. This so-called corruption drum would soon burst; the PNC operatives have almost knocked the air out of it. But they will continue to use the shell in an effort to cover up their own deficiencies including their heavy involvement in corruption, mismanagement and letting the economic decline continue. Remember Basil Williams said something to this effect: “we have to continue with this corruption thing to woo people on our side!”
The PPP indicates that the ‘International Narcotics Control Strategy Report – Volume II,’ “identifies government corruption, for the first time in Guyana’s history, as one of the main source of money-laundering. In short, we have a government of money-launderers.” The PPP/C had urged the coalition to invite international forensic auditors to examine the records of the PPP/C administration for corruption. Other PPP measures to have MPs declare publicly their assets, both local and foreign, had been rejected by the PNC-AFC. The PPP/C leaders, while in government, declared their assets to the Integrity Commission but the APNU-AFC party members did not.
Clive Thomas had presided over the closure of the 4 sugar estates. He should be held accountable for the destruction of the lives and livelihood of over 40,000 people who were also left without any alternative employment or given any training. Having gotten him to do that dirty job, Granger removed him as head of GUYSUCO and replaced him with Colvin Heath-London. Granger realized that Clive Thomas is good at destroying and breaking, but not at fixing and building; so Granger had to remove him from GUYSUCO as he (Granger) wanted some progress in the new dispensation of the sugar industry.
When will SARA and SOCU investigate the mother of all corruptions? Stealing an election involves a multiplicity of corrupt acts.
DR. TARA SINGH IS AN INDEPENDENT COLUMNIST. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of THE WEST INDIAN.