The final day of Budget 2021 Debates, almost coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government’s loss at the polls, featured reflections from one of the targets of the former Government’s political witch-hunting.
In a fiery closing presentation on the 2021 Budget Debates, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh spoke of how he bravely faced the trumped-up charges that were brought against him in April 2018, which were eventually withdrawn by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) last year.
“It is a well-known fact that the APNU/AFC Government spent hundreds of millions of dollars doing audits high, low, left, right, centre, searching everywhere. Found not a scintilla of wrongdoing on my part. And then trumped-up charges. I came back voluntarily to Guyana to face those charges,” Dr Singh said.
“That dictatorial APNU/AFC Government, after I came back voluntarily to attend court, then instructed the policemen to put me in handcuffs and parade me there, so they can take a picture and put me on the front pages of the newspapers. And you dare to come and talk about decency? You dare to talk about public service?”
The Minister noted that his experience with victimisation at the hands of a politicised Police Force steeled rather than cowed his resolve to push for the removal of the APNU/AFC Government from office.
“Mr Speaker, they believed that I would have been humiliated and cowed by that. I wore those handcuffs as a badge of honour! You thought you could humiliate and cow me? There’s nothing the APNU/AFC can do to challenge my integrity!” a fired-up Dr Singh informed the House.
“I said silently to myself, that I would devote the rest of my life to ensuring that the APNU/AFC is removed from Government and never again return… but I was not the only one. Just as I said I will spend the rest of my life to make sure these people are removed from Government, thousands and thousands and thousands of Guyanese people made the same decision!” the Minister said, a reference to APNU/AFC being voted out of office last year.
In 2018, after three years of witch-hunting, the then APNU/AFC Government railroaded SOCU into bringing criminal charges against Dr Singh, the then former Finance Minister and former National industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Head, alleging that Singh and Winston Brassington had sold State land below the valuation.
The duo was first charged back in April 2018 and released on $6 million bail each. Despite all of the investigations, the type of charge eventually brought against Singh and Brassington was not found in the statute books of Guyana but relied on a UK law that had never before been applied in Guyana.
Both Singh and Brassington had always maintained that they did not personally sell any Government land but it was NICIL/Government that sold the land. Singh and Brassington also maintained that they merely acted as directors, and fully complied with all applicable policies and procedures in conducting the sale.
Dr Singh and Brassington in turn had mounted a High Court challenge to the legality of the charges laid against them by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC. Among other things, their lawyers had contended that the offence of misconduct in public office, contrary to common law, is an abuse of process, malicious, biased, capricious, arbitrary, and without proper evidential basis.
They had further argued that the charges were bad in faith, unreasonable, discriminatory, unlawful, and influenced by irrelevant and improper considerations and motives, null, void, and of no effect.
From the moment the charges were laid, the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), including former Presidents Bharrat Jagdeo and Donald Ramotar, had always called out the charges for being politically motivated. And sure enough, following the change of Government in August of 2020, SOCU withdrew the charges at the next court hearing four months later.