Govt admits SOCU agents get a “top up” outside of salaries
On Friday, the Public Security Ministry’s contract workers and increases in revised budget estimates were scrutinised by the Opposition. During the proceedings, it was revealed that apart from hiring nine new officers for the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), officers are also paid a “top up” or bonus by the Public Security Ministry outside of their regular salaries.
Making the admission was Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, on the final day of the Budget Debates. Opposition Member of Parliament (MP) Juan Edghill had questioned why salaries were being paid under a line item called
‘other’, at which point Ramjattan noted that this was a “top up.”
“I understand that it is not a salary, it is what is called a top up for working at SOCU,” Ramjattan said, adding that it was inherited.
Edghill sought clarity on whether these were already serving members of the Guyana Police Force and Ramjattan noted that some were retirees while others were serving members, though he requested time to lay over the information.
According to Ramjattan, while SOCU is part of the Police Force, these officers are usually versed in financial matters and have expertise. As such, he said a system for incentivising them is required.
“We continued working with this arrangement and it is an arrangement that attracts certain people with qualifications in finance and a number of officers who had retired. And we have to do that special arrangement; otherwise we’re not going to get good quality. Indeed, SOCU comes under the Police Force.”
Last year, SOCU brought several persons with ties to the parliamentary Opposition to court. In April 2017, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall was arraigned before Georgetown Magistrate Fabayo Azore on a charge instituted by SOCU, which detailed that between May 15 and May 29, 2015, while being a bailee (custodian), he had converted to his own use and benefit 14 Commonwealth Law Reports, valued at $2.3 million – which he allegedly unlawfully retained after demitting office in 2015.
This is despite both Nandlall and former President Donald Ramotar affirming that the subscription for the law books was paid for as a condition of his service as Attorney General. Nandlall’s ownership of the books was also recognised by the High Court when it granted an order prohibiting SOCU from carrying out searches and seizing the law books.
The following month, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Members of Parliament Dharamkumar Seeraj and Nigel Dharamlall; former Deputy General Manager of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB), Ricky Ramraj; former GRDB General Manager Jagnarine Singh; former GRDB Board member Badrie Persaud; and former Deputy Permanent Secretary (Finance) of the Agriculture Ministry, Prema Roopnarine, were before the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts to answer several charges of fraudulent omission.
The charges were indictable, laid in relation to the operations of the GRDB between the years 2011 and 2015. They came one day after the officials had been summoned by SOCU for questioning. No other members of the Board of Directors were targeted by the Unit. In October, 16 of these charges were dismissed by the courts.
Charges were also filed against former Finance Minister, Dr Ashni Singh and Head of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington. Both Singh and Brassington have challenged the charges in the High Court. A few weeks ago, charges were also instituted against former Housing Minister Irfaan Ali.
The political Opposition has long expressed, strongly their opinion that SOCU is being used as a tool to continue the witch-hunting of political opponents, and it’s being diverted from its intended purpose.