LETTER: SARA is disqualified by any standard from being a professional investigative unit

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Dear Editor,

From the outset, I want to make it abundantly clear that I support investigations into decisions made and transactions done by public officers — including the Executive President — in respect to assets of the State; once there is a basis for such investigations. I apprehend this to be one of the cornerstones of accountable, transparent and good governance.

Both the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, himself a former President, and former President Donald Ramotar have publicly declared that they welcome any investigation into the allocation of oil mining blocks to the recipients under the PPP Administration. Expectedly, they both demand that the investigations be done by a reputable international agency. Unsurprisingly, they both opine that the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) is not qualified to conduct such investigations. With these sentiments I fully concur.

It is an uncontroverted fact that SARA is deeply politically-tainted, entrenched and influenced. This disability is aggravated by an aura of unconstitutionality which envelops its governing legislation, and is compounded by a stain of illegality surrounding the appointment of its two most senior functionaries.

From its inception, the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), the precursor to SARA, was conceived in, and birthed from, the political womb of the Ministry of the Presidency. There it spent its weaning months, where it was nourished from money out of the budget of that political agency. In that political epicenter, its three main officers were handpicked by the political czars; absolutely devoid of transparency or accountability, and without resort to a competitive process.

Professor Clive Thomas is a known politician and a leader of the Working Peoples’ Alliance (WPA), one of the political parties in the Coalition Government. While in SARU, he was quoted almost weekly in the press, expressing very jaundiced and conclusive views on a number of areas of endeavour — which were to become the subject of investigations by SARA — long before these investigations commenced. These premonitions, without more, illustrated an arrival at verdicts long before the probing began. His open hostility to the PPP and its supporters made the matter more toxic.

Aubrey Retemyer was a leading member of the US chapter of the PNC. Now at home, there is no doubt that he would have transformed into a regularised and locally-domiciled patron of Congress Place.

Eric Phillips’s long association with the PNC is well documented, and he is also one of the political advisers to President David Granger. His ethno-driven ideology will always be perceived to impair his objectivity in a society like ours.

These are the three leading officers of SARA. Their political groundings, party affiliations and ideologies, ipso facto, disqualify them from being independent, professional and apolitical, all of which are requisites for the holders of offices in any investigative arm of the State.

Irrespective of how professional their intentions and actions may be, the political stench which they emit contaminates anything that they do in the eyes of the public. More than half of the society perceive them as political apparatchiks with hatchets in hand. That is the cold, hard reality.

Additionally, pending in the High Court is litigation which challenges the constitutionality of almost every provision of the SARA Act. These proceedings will certainly not end in the High Court; they journey all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). This challenge, therefore, will be extant for the next five years, at a minimum.

Moreover, the Director and Deputy Director of SARA simply transitioned themselves from SARU into SARA when the SARA Act came into force. They were never appointed in accordance with the Act, neither were their terms and conditions determined in accordance with the Act.

The schedule of the SARA Act provides that, “the National Assembly shall, by a simple majority and on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments, appoint the Director and the Deputy Director of SARA.” Professor Thomas and Mr. Retemyer, who purport to be the Director and Deputy Director respectively of SARA, were never appointed by this process.

The schedule of the Act also provides that, “the terms and conditions of the appointment of the Director and Deputy Directors, including their terms of office, shall be determined by the Parliamentary Committee on Appointments.” The National Assembly has had nothing to do with either the appointments or fixing the terms and conditions of employment of either Thomas or Retemyer.

The schedule of the SARA Act further compels the Director to prepare a report at the end of each financial year, detailing how the agency has discharged its functions; its annual plans for the financial year, and costs associated therewith; along with monies credited to the agency. This statement is required to be laid by the subject Minister in the National Assembly. As far as I am aware, no such report was ever laid in the National Assembly, and SARA has been in existence since 2017.

Additionally, yours truly has filed legal proceedings challenging the legality of the appointments of Professor Thomas and Mr. Retemyer. Those proceedings are pending in the High Court.

In the end, we have the constitutionality of the SARA Act being the subject of a legal challenge; the two most senior functionaries of SARA holding office illegally; and the agency itself contravening its superintendent legislation by not laying its Annual Reports in the National Assembly. An agency so embroiled in its own implosive illegalities must be disqualified, by any standard, from being a professional investigative unit. No educated, civilized society will repose public trust and confidence where so many legal issues abound.

Sincerely,

Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP

Attorney-at-Law