Attorney General Basil Williams has dismissed the overwhelming concerns expressed by the Private Sector Commission (PSC) in relation to the “heavily flawed” State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) Bill.
Williams maintained that the Bill is in accordance with the provisions outlined by the International Convention against Corruption and that there is no need for the document to be re-examined as petitioned by the Private Sector organisation.
“The provisions were not pulled out from somebody’s back pocket. The last regime had signed on to the convention against corruption and never implemented them… So all provisions in the SARA Bill are taken out of the convention against corruption,” he told journalists at a press conference on Wednesday morning.
He also explained that consultations on the SARA Bill were extensive and indicated that Government is not to be held responsible if the Private Sector representatives failed to participate in the forum.
“The PSC was specifically invited. The Private Sector must stop playing politics. We are using taxpayers’ money to hold these consultations. When we don’t hold consultations, they made a lot of noise. Now we are holding consultations and they are not going, they not attending… The PSC, they must stop disrespecting the Guyanese public,” Williams insisted.
Furthermore, the AG posited that the Government is not obligated to observe the inputs by those who participated in the consultations.
“We take all considerations on board (but) there is nothing to say because a submission was made by party A that we are bound to include that in the Bill,” he affirmed.
In a stern warning release last week, the local Private Sector umbrella body urged Government to re-examine the Bill, saying that it provides for harassment and political victimisation in its current form.
The PSC said the Bill is not a good signal to investors who will require access to State resources such as land, licences, access rights, etc, as the Bill provides opportunities for legitimate investors to be harassed and politically victimised.
According to the PSC, the Bill is also inconsistent with many of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana.
“The Bill has been drafted from the perspective that the Government of Guyana does not know what it owns or what the State has lost over the years and as such, it provides all encompassing investigative and surveillance powers to the Director and staff of the Agency to snoop around into private accounts and financial records of citizens to determine what assets of the State were lost and need to be recovered,” the body stated.
Furthermore, the PSC raised concerns about the magnitude of powers provided to the Director of SARA, who is currently Dr Clive Thomas.
“(It) will blur the lines of separation of functions of the Executive and the Judiciary,” the PSC said.
The PSC also believes that the SARA Bill is premature and redundant since many of the intelligence gathering mechanisms have already been enacted in the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism legislation and included in the mandate of the Integrity Commission; both of which have not been fully functional to date.
The concerns expressed by the Private Sector body echoes that of many other civil society bodies, as well as the parliamentary Opposition, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
Former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall was among those to question the provisions of the Bill since in its current construct, it “creates an environment that encourages the violation of individuals’ constitutional rights and undermines the rule of law since it confers powers 10 times greater than those of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) on a sole individual – the Director of the Agency”.
Responding to these concerns, Minister Williams presumed that the Opposition is fearful for the SARA Bill to come into operation since it will expose the corruption that prevailed under their rule.
“We have news for them. This Government intends to root out corruption. They should be afraid, perhaps it might be a good reason for them to stay out of public office because this practice of extracting private wealth from State assets which was practiced by the last regime must be addressed,” he stated.
But Nandlall had previously pointed out that the SARA Bill, if passed and accented by President David Granger, cannot be used to target former Government Ministers since the law cannot be retroactive.