Alarm bells were sounded about the creation of a parallel justice system driven by a political agenda to spread fear and intimidation across the country in an effort to make the public docile and subservient to an authoritative Government.
This is according to former Attorney General and Member of Parliament (MP) Anil Nandlall.
In his bid to sensitise the public about the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) Bill, Nandlall warned of the dictatorial situation this legislation is bound to create and how it would ultimately negatively impact the socioeconomic landscape of the country.
During a public consultation forum on the SARA Bill, organised by the parliamentary Opposition – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) – on Wednesday, stakeholders expressed grave concerns about the dangers of the passage of this piece of legislation.
According to Nandlall, who made an informative presentation at the consultation, the SARA Bill, as currently structured, creates an environment that encourages the violation of individuals’ constitutional rights and undermines the rule of law since it confers powers ten times greater than those of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) on a sole individual – the Director of the Agency.
Currently, this post is occupied by Professor Clive Thomas who will, upon the passage of the SARA Bill, become the most powerful man in the country second to President David Granger.
Nandlall’s assertions were budded by presentations made by Private Sector representative Sase Gunraj and former presidential adviser Gail Teixeira, after which members of civil society were invited to join in the discussion.
Parallel justice system
The former Attorney General asserted that SARA would first target those who have held high office formerly, but afterwards, it would grow hungry again and its “vicious” pursuits could extend to other high office holders and even the ordinary people.
“Those who hold office now and that are giving directions and whose intentions are being manifested in these Bills and these organisations were the same architects of a brutal dictatorship that held this country ransom in a not-too-distant past,” Nandlall reminded.
He contended that the consideration of the establishment of a separate prosecuting department is evidence of the Government’s intention to destabilise the independence currently enjoyed by the existing prosecutorial office in the discharge of its functions, an independence which is protected by the highest law of the country – the Constitution of Guyana.
“When the authoritarian cannot penetrate that barrier of independence, the authoritarian creates its own structure, its own prosecutorial office that it will staff with its own lackeys of course who will come after you,” he warned.
He pointed out too that calls have already been made by “lackeys” from the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) for the establishment of a separate court to try persons charged by SARA.
Nandlall highlighted that the SARA Bill contains features which distinguish civil forfeiture bills globally, making it the most draconian of its kind.
Civil forfeiture is a controversial draconian concept in the legal system because it relates to the seizure of property without a conviction.
According to the legal luminary, the Bill creates a series of new offences, the SARA Director is vested with unparallel powers to investigate the newly-created offences and persons can be rid of their properties without ever being charged with a crime.
He explained that the Bill redefined the term “unlawful”, diluting the seriousness of a “wrong” which can now warrant the seizure of one’s property.
Therefore, it becomes easier to commit an “unlawful act”, and in the process, one risks losing one’s property.
“Why a government would want to pass a law like this? It’s because they want to control and have you in a state of fear, you threaten a man’s property, you threaten their very existence… you break the back of independence in a society and when that happens, the society is irreparably destroyed,” he emphasised.
The Bill bestows power on the SARA Director to, in the discharge of his functions, demand information from the Director of Prosecutions, Commissioner of Police, the Financial Intelligence Unit, the Special Organised Crime Unit, the Integrity Commission, the Central Bank, the Commissioner General, among many other influential office bearers and entities.
“He can demand information from all of these organisations…The Bill ignores the fact that some of these officials are prohibited from their respective organisation to disclose information… This Bill gives him this overarching power, demand over and above those legislation. So I don’t know if it is the intention of this Bill to repeal those existing legislation,” he stated.
He concluded that this was simply a recipe for abuse and misuse of power and authority.
Moreover, Nandlall noted that the SARA Bill, through its source of funding, encourages the Unit to pursue and seize properties haphazardly and without any firm basis in order to finance its operations.
According to the draft Bill, funding will come from the sale of seized property.