The proposed State Assets Recovery Bill proposed by Government, is not only deeply flawed but is inconsistent with many of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of Guyana, and as such, must be reviewed in that context.
This was the stern warning given by the Private Sector Commission (PSC) on Wednesday when that body for the first time formally objected to the provisions of the proposed SARA Bill.
The local Private Sector umbrella body in a strongly worded missive said it is of the view that all assets or resources belonging to State “that were unlawfully or criminally transferred to any beneficiary must be recovered and returned to the State once such unlawful transactions become known and criminal convictions obtained.”
This, however, has to be done within the confines of the Guyana Constitution.
The Private Sector body made its position known, having consulted with its legal representation and has since committed to making known its objections to the SARA Bill to the Attorney General and members of the legislature.
“The SARA Bill 2016 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,” the body also said.
In lambasting the draft SARA Bill, the Private Sector representative body drew reference to the fact that 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.”
According to the Private Sector body, “this is a complete affront to the fundamental rights of citizens and if such powers are granted, they can be used to marginalise, suppress and take advantage of vulnerable members of the population through political intimidation.”
The PSC, said, it is extremely concerned that the powers provided to the Director of SARA will blur the lines of separation of functions of the Executive and the Judiciary and further questions the need for Ministers to designate to the Director and staff of SARA, “as they see fit, the power of a revenue or customs officer, of a Police Officer and immigration officer rather than requesting collaboration and coordination of efforts amongst these agencies.”
According to the PSC, it is of the view that the SARA Bill is premature and redundant since many of the intelligence gathering mechanism 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 PSC has since called on the Executive and members of the “legislature of our country to completely reexamine the dangers to civil liberties modelled by this Bill in the context of the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana.”
The public stated position of the Private Sector body echoes that of many other civil society bodies, many of which have questioned not only the proposed powers of the SARA Director but the Bill in its entirety.
During a recent public consultation forum on the SARA Bill, organised by the parliamentary Opposition – the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) – stakeholders expressed grave concerns about the dangers of the passage of this piece of legislation. Former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall were among those to question the provisions of the Bill since in its current construct, “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.
Currently, this post is occupied by Professor Clive Thomas who will, upon the passage of the SARA Bill, become the most powerful man in the country second to President David Granger.
The Bill is slated to be presented to the National Assembly for debate and possibly enactment when the House comes out of recess next month.