The International Centre for Democracy (ICD), a non-governmental organisation made up mostly of Caribbean nationals and headquartered in Richmond Hill; Queens, New York, has taken note of the recent arrest and arraignment of Opposition Member of Parliament and former Housing and Water Minister Irfaan Ali, and a few others preceding him.
The organisation said it was disappointed with the increasing evidence of “political victimisation” by the governing A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition Government against the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
“These legal manipulations to victimise political opponents at a time when people are worried about free and fair elections in 2020 do not inspire confidence that the Government has intentions for a strengthening of democracy in Guyana,” a statement from the ICD said.
While acknowledging that it is the obligation of every Government to protect national assets and that every Government must act to prosecute those Government officials that deliberately convert national assets for personal gains, they feel the coalition has not been doing that.
“However, the behaviour of APNU/AFC in charging former Government officials since May 2015 in Guyana appears to be more of a political witch-hunt, rather than a transparent and legal process consistent with protecting national assets,” it observed.
The ICD said it has monitored with dismay the worrying intensification of bullying, political harassment and intimidation in Guyana. The political victimisation carried out against senior members of the PPP and well-known supporters of that party.
The ICD said it sees the charges against Ali and those against other senior members, like Nandlall, as strictly political and as a deliberate act of witch-hunting. “While we have tried to be objective as we support building a democratic society in Guyana and other countries around the world, we view the situation in Guyana as a weakening of the democratic fabric.”
The Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) was singled out by the ICD as being the lead law enforcement organisation that has been engaged in this type of activity. Reference was made to Ali’s recent arrest. The organisation said it was clearly spurious criminal charges that are aimed towards amplifying the ongoing setting of political harassment and intimidation.
“We view this latest example with consternation and see it as another major assault on democracy in the country. We note that the charges against Mr Ali are the latest of a string of such charges against former members of the PPP Cabinet and Government,” it said, noting that former Attorney General Anil Nandlall is among the persons who have been charged previously.
The ICD was quick to point out that both Ali and Nandlall are strong candidates for the PPP presidential nomination, which could be the reason behind these recent moves. “What is worrying is that the charges have so far been inconsistent with findings of a long list of financial audits that were conducted by the Government soon after assuming office in May 2015.”
But of importance is the fact that a Minister of Government had concluded and announced publicly that the audits did not find evidence to lay charges against anyone. The ICD also reminded that President David Granger himself has said that charges could only be laid if there is evidence, while legal practitioners have concluded that persons were not credibly charged.
“More worrying is that the Government has utilised SOCU to carry out these clearly tainted charges, intended only to embarrass, harass, intimidate and persecute individuals they see as leaders of the PPP. SOCU is a Police arm that was established under law by the PPP to pursue and persecute persons for money laundering,” it added.
Further, the ICD pointed to the fact that SOCU has not laid a single money-laundering charge since May 2015. This is in spite of the fact that the Finance Minister continues to insist that the economy has been driven by drug money. “While unable to persecute anyone for money-laundering, we find it curious and worrisome that SOCU has charged a number of former government officials, all senior members or strong supporters of the PPP.”