Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has called on the diplomatic and donor communities to pay close attention to the public declarations made and actions taken by the Head of the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), Dr. Clive Thomas, as well as attempts being made by the political hierarchy to use the Serious Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) to target members of the parliamentary opposition.
Jagdeo, in a press statement issued earlier today (Saturday) stated that SARU’s role as designed, and its intent since the change of government is to “target, pronounce and make wild unsubstantiated accusations against members of the parliamentary opposition and leaders of the PPP/C while proceeding to try these individuals publicly.”
He urged the Guyanese public, civil society bodies, the diplomatic and donor communities to be alerted to these “worrying developments which are an indicator of creeping authoritarianism undermining democracy, human rights and the rule of law”.
The following is the full statement issued by the Opposition Leader:
The Office of the Leader of the Opposition calls on the diplomatic and donor communities to pay close attention to the public declarations made and actions taken by the Head of the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), Dr. Clive Thomas, an undisguised hostile opponent of the PPP, as well as the politically directed interference in the operations of the Serious Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) which are primarily focused on carrying out a “witch hunt” of members of the parliamentary opposition and the leaders of the PPP/C.
The Office has noted that members of the diplomatic community have publicly committed to lending technical and financial assistance to SARU. However, the SARU’s role as designed and its intent since the change of government is to target, pronounce and make wild unsubstantiated accusations against members of the parliamentary opposition and leaders of the PPP/C while proceeding to try these individuals publicly.
The claim that new legislation is required in order to bring charges against persons who are accused of criminal offences with regards to state assets is false. Statutes already exist to bring such charges. However, the new legislation that is being touted appears to relate more to entrenching the SARU as an entity in law with powers overriding the Guyana Police Force, the Audit Office of Guyana and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.The parliamentary opposition is totally opposed to any such legislative instrument.
Public statements by the Head of the SARU, Dr. Clive Thomas, are illustrative. He appears to be consumed with a personal vendetta against the PPP. In fact, his hostility is not exclusively his, the entire Unit is composed of leading APNU/AFC political operatives, some of whom were APNU and AFC Members of the 10th Parliament.
The public is reminded that the SARU is housed in, and operated from, and, financed through the budget of the Ministry of the Presidency. This Unit has been created with the objective of leading the “witch hunt” of the present parliamentary opposition and leaders of the PPP. The SOCU, which was created to investigate money laundering and the financing of terrorism under the AMLCFT Act is now the operational arm that is being used to target these same individuals.
This concern of the parliamentary opposition is further bolstered by recent public statements by Cabinet Ministers which are particularly ominous.
During the debate of the estimates of the 2016 Budget in the National Assembly in February, 2016, the Minister of Public Security as a result of being grilled on the operations of SOCU, promised to make the protocols that guide its operations public in a matter of a few weeks. This promise has remained unfulfilled. Subsequently, Minister Trotman at a press conference a month ago in a response to a question stated that the protocols were not complete. Minister Harmon at a press conference on July 14, 2016 in response to a question stated that the SOCU operates within the laws of Guyana, thereby side-stepping the issue of the promised protocols.
It is the same SOCU with army personnel which led a high speed chase on the car transporting the wife of PPP/C parliamentarian Charles Ramson, Jnr, resulting in 3 persons being killed. The government has stated that there will be no investigation and no body or agency has accepted responsibility for what happened. It is this incident that led to the demand in the National Assembly by the parliamentary opposition for the protocols governing the operations of the SOCU.
The fact that $40 M has been allocated in the 2016 Budget of the Ministry of the Presidency for a “top up” of the SOCU staff is highly suspect and facilitates an environment for overt political interference.
Exacerbating our concerns is the recent public statement by Minister Jaipaul Sharma that the Cabinet would be deciding who was going to be charged as a result of the forensic audits carried out in various Ministries and state entities!
Furthermore, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition is aware of the existence of a list containing the names of political leaders of the PPP/ C and non- PPP/C individuals who are to be targeted by the SOCU. This list originated from no other than the Ministry of the Presidency.
Contrast this manufactured “witch hunt” targeting the parliamentary opposition, with the promises made by the APNU/AFC Coalition in the electoral campaign with regards to their own leaders. The public is reminded that the APNU/AFC MPs have refused to make declarations to the Integrity Commission and voted down a motion in January 2016 by the parliamentary opposition for all MPs to make public their income tax declarations for the last 10 years. In fact, there are long serving MPs, now representing the government, who have consciously and willfully refused to comply with the Integrity Act since it came into force almost 20 years ago.
The government’s silence with regard to the public call by the Leader of the Opposition to hire a specialized firm or ask Interpol to track the assets of all MPs and former Presidents is of particular interest in the context of these developments.
Therefore, our concerns regarding these trends which are undermining the rule of law in Guyana are not emotive, but, based on the very actions and statements made by senior government Ministers and the SARU, coupled with actions of the SOCU. These reveal a stealthy intrusion of the executive into the independence of the prosecutorial and judicial arms of the state by the APNUAFC Coalition government.
In this context, the Guyanese public, civil society bodies, the diplomatic and donor communities are being alerted to these worrying developments which are an indicator of creeping authoritarianism undermining democracy, human rights and the rule of law.