$116M requested to fund SARA operations

…Opposition objects, says not a priority

Government has requested millions of dollars to help fund the controversial State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), formerly known as the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU).
Through a supplementary provision laid in Parliament, the Government is seeking $116 million to assist with establishment of the new agency, which will consist of five managerial staff, 13 technical staff, 12 supervisory and clerical staff, and 16 services-related staff.
The coalition Government is requesting $89.89 million for managerial, technical, supervisory and clerical staff and services. Some $116.31 million are being sought to assist with the purchase of furniture and equipment for the new SARA building, besides two vehicles and other items.
However, while the matter is yet to come under scrutiny, Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Anil Nandlall has objected to the request.
The former minister told Guyana Times that the money being requested for SARA could be better utilised on agencies that are in greater need of finance to carry out their policy functions.
Nandlall said important decisions and policies that can impact positively on the lives of the poor and vulnerable in society have in the past been shut down because of so-called “serious financial constraints.”
Making reference to an Opposition call for the removal of VAT on private education and medical supplies, and the imposition of subsidies for the elderly, Nandlall said this excuse was also used to shut down these requests.
“We have been told that the nation cannot afford to implement those measures because of financial constraints. And that is why we don’t support this, and we don’t think that this is a priority for Guyana at this point in time. And we are essentially contending that this is a waste of money,” he asserted.
The former legal affairs minister also questioned how the request was made through the Legal Affairs Ministry when SARA does not have a responsible line minister.
Nandlall recalled that one of the major criticisms he made about the SARA Bill when it was debated in Parliament is that the head of SARA and the entire agency is not answerable to any person, including the President.
“So I cannot understand on what basis the Ministry of Legal Affairs is requisitioning this money, because the Minister of Legal Affairs is not the subject minister for that ministry,” he noted.
He also finds it strange that the Government would put aside concerns raised by the labour movement, the private sector and political parties to move ahead with establishment of this agency.
“Its purpose is not clear. It has been pointed out that the law invests too much power in those who will run and operate this agency; that there are not sufficient checks and balances to ensure that there will not be an abuse of power; and the law that brings this organization into force is unconstitutional,” Nandlall said as he pointed to the legal challenge being mounted by political and social commentator Ramon Gaskin on the matter.
Further, Nandlall claimed that the request has no basis because there is no likelihood that the sums of money being requested would be utilised before the next budget.
“So, why take from the treasury scarce liquidity of this magnitude and put aside to an agency that is not even extant and running, when you have competition for scare financial resources by so many agencies that are of far more importance to the need and welfare of Guyanese people?” he questioned.
Nandlall spoke about the process that led to the appointment of an official to head the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), which he said will be similar to that of the SARA.
He said it took in excess of one year for the process to be completed, and he also referred to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Authority.
“That authority will be made up of a 20-member team, and those persons have to go through a process of being selected through Parliament. That process has not commenced. So there is no urgency for this money at this point in time,” Nandlall explained.
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has expressed disappointment at what he described as the appointment of “political hacks” to the now vacant positions at SARA. He contended that his Party would seek to have persons with the requisite qualification function in the positions at SARA, and would accept nothing less.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has also made known its intention to implement several changes to the SARA Bill 2017 if re-elected to office in 2020.

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