Op-Ed: Is the UK aware of what it is assissting?

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Below is an opinion piece by former Attorney General, Attorney-at-law and Member of Parliament Anil Nandlall:

Earlier this week, I posited: “aid from UK to strengthen the Guyanese security sector is indeed a noble and laudable gesture. But are those in London truly aware what the situation is here in Guyana and what use is made of this aid?  I think not!”

I wish to now elaborate. I already highlighted that the Security Sector Reform Report, which was handed to the Government since 2017, has not yet left the custody of the President. It has not even been discussed at Cabinet, nor has it yet reached the hands of the Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan.

From all indications, this is a Report intended to boost the security sector’s capability to tackle crime. No one can dispute that the crime situation continues to spiral to greater heights. There is no discernible plan on the part of the Government to combat this monster. In such an environment, one would have thought that a Government would move with rapidity to implement the recommendations contained in this Report. Yet, over seven months after its receipt, the report has not yet reached the hands of the subject Minister. This either constitutes the worst kind of incompetence, or it is irrefutable evidence that the subject Minister is being side-lined. It is difficult to determine which is worse.

Another area of the security sector in which the British has made a significant contribution, is the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU). The British presence is very visible at SOCU headquarters in the form of two British Nationals: Dr Sam Sittlington and Mrs Sheronomie James.

Therefore, should one assume that the British is comfortable with SOCU departing from its original mandate of investigating organised crimes based upon information generated from Guyana’s Anti Money Laundering/Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) structures via the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU)? And should one also assume that the British accepts the current role of SOCU, which is, almost only investigating and prosecuting alleged offences committed by former ministers and senior officials of the PPP/C administration, based upon Forensic Audit Reports done by auditors hand-picked by the present Government? These are important questions which must be answered.

Sittlington and James

The role of Sittlington and James at SOCU continues to raise serious concerns. Regardless of their official portfolios, it is common knowledge that these two persons now dictate the policy and direction of this semi-autonomous department of the Guyana Police Force.

Both of these persons seem to have strong ties to the Government or at least some persons in the Government. As recently disclosed under cross-examination, in an ongoing criminal trial before the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court, Mrs Sheronomie James was a senior member of the government sponsored audit team that produced reports which formed the basis of the criminal charges presently engaging the courts against PPP connected defendants.

Having reported these wrongdoings, she is now, invidiously, tasked with investigating these reports to determine their credibility!  She was therefore determined by the court to lack the independence to give an expert opinion of these very reports of which she was an investigator.

Mr Sittlington’s toasting with one of the main antagonists of the PPP on the day of the arrests of senior PPP executives speak for itself. As pointed out earlier, contrary to the organization’s raison d’être, its scope and function have been insidiously evolving from the investigation of money laundering to perceived transgressions by PPPites. This has led to a transformation of SOCU. From my experience and interactions with SOCU, I wish to make the following observations:

  • all of the senior professional police investigators originally attached to SOCU have been gradually removed and replaced;
  • none of the top ranking members of SOCU now have any experience in police investigations;
  • it is indisputable that most of SOCU’s energies have been, and continue to be, focused on perceived transgressions by persons connected to the political opposition;
  • the Commissioner of Police and The Crime Chief do not have any operational control over the activities at SOCU;
  • the DPP is now placed in a position that effectively removes her as the constitutionally empowered supervisor of criminal proceedings undertaken by SOCU. In fact, it was disclosed in the press that in relation to the Pradoville investigations, because the DPP herself was the beneficiary of a plot of land in that scheme, the office of the DPP did not advise on the matter. Justice Claudette Singh, the senior Police legal advisor, did. Therefore, rather than request the DPP to recuse herself and have another officer in the Chambers advise on the matter, the office of the DPP was completely removed from the process, in violation of Article 187 of the Constitution!

SOCU and SARA

Against this backdrop one must question why SOCU has failed to investigate similar and very public allegations of financial wrong-doings by the current Administration? The disingenuous argument of Mr Sittlington is that no such formal reports have been made to SOCU. What he has failed to disclose is that under his policy direction, there is no mechanism in existence at SOCU for anyone other than the Government to make a formal report.

What is in existence is an official book referred to as the “Government Book” in which reports are made! In any event, based upon reports in the press, Raymond Gaskin has lodged a formal complaint with the Police in respect of the US$18M signing bonus. No one has heard anything from the Police on this matter since. The Simona Broomes fiasco, in the car park of New Thriving Restaurant, Providence, should also be mentioned. The Police claim that they are still investigating. Two weeks have since elapsed, yet there is no follow-up action by the Police.

The other agency to which the British extended its kind assistance is the controversial State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA). The SARA Act was challenged on the ground of its alleged unconstitutionality within one month after it came into force. Almost two years hence, our Constitutional Court is still to render a ruling.

An application to the Court to hold the Act in abeyance until its constitutionality is determined was, unfortunately, refused. I have already pointed out that the Director and Deputy Director of SARA are holding offices and being paid public funds, illegally. The Act provides how these appointments are to be made. These two persons have not been appointed in accordance with the Act.

However, despite their illegal status, they continue to boldly lecture the nation, even the Judiciary, on the rule of law. Earlier this year, the Attorney General organised a confabulation where Judges and Prosecutors were trained together in respect of matters pertaining to the SARA Act. The diabolical perception which can be generated by the co-mingling of Judges and Prosecutors at the same training session has blissfully eluded the attention of our Attorney General.

I close by reposing the question posited earlier: is the British Government really aware of what it is actually funding?

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