… says presidential immunity likely for constitutional reform
The immunity granted to former Presidents is an issue that could be examined in constitutional reform, Minister of State Joseph Harmon said on Friday. He was at the time responding to questions about the stance taken by former President Bharrat Jagdeo after he was taken in for questioning by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) on Tuesday, on his acquisition of his Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara (ECD) property, in what is commonly referred to as Pradoville 2’.
Harmon’s apparent threat comes mere hours after President David Granger was apologetic about the way in which the Guyana Police Force treated the former President in the matter.
After being arrested on Tuesday last, Jagdeo when questioned about decisions he took while being a sitting President, told investigators that he was covered by immunity as a former President of Guyana and could not answer their questions.
But Harmon said while the Constitution is very clear about immunity about a sitting President taking certain steps while in office, it is possible that the issue could be brought up in the constitutional reform process.
According to Harmon, the Constitution can be looked at in a certain way as the article gives immunity to the President while he is in office. He said the situation in Guyana has become so different that the anticipation of the framers of the Constitution was that a President, once he leaves office, would lead a quiet life.
“But the situation in Guyana is totally different. You have people who have been in office and are now in the National Assembly. So how can you now claim those immunities while you are actively involved in day to day politics”? It is the same problem you have with a former President who writes almost every day in the newspapers and say things that need to be dealt with. Usually a President is given certain levels of courtesies, but if, by their actions after they leave office, they descend in the arena, then you will have to be dealt with by the persons in the arena,” Harmon told the media at his weekly post-Cabinet briefing.
People’s Progressive Party (PPP) officials have been accused of knowingly acquiring state lands at costs that were below market value, while their government held office.
Former President Bharrat Jagdeo on Tuesday said the action has nothing to do with fighting corruption but rather about instilling fear and intimidating in those who resist policies of the coalition Administration.
He had explained that ahead of his interrogation, he asked the agents whether he was being questioned in his private capacity or his official capacity as his actions as President are immune.
“I asked if they are asking questions in my private capacity or official capacity because in doing that you are going to breach the veil of immunity that I have for official acts and that will have far reaching consequences in this country,” he stated. The Opposition Leader said he declined to answer questions posed to him in his private capacity. He disclosed that questions were relating to the audit reports’ findings on the Pradoville 2 transaction, NICIL and NCN operations.
Jagdeo anticipates that charges will be laid, given Government’s “agenda”, but assured that the charges will be challenged in the courts. The Opposition leader said he strongly believes the unprecedented actions taken by SOCU are politically motivated and meant to silence the vociferous voices against the wrongdoings of the coalition.
But Minister Harmon said Government’s position remains the same – that SOCU is an arm of the Guyana Police Force and it is a Police investigation and “we will not interfere with the Police investigation”.
Harmon said the Police Officers involved in the investigation are equipped to deal with the issues that will arise.
“The questions of immunity will be determined at the appropriate time. Whether immunity exists or whether it is covered by the offence that has been committed. This is the kind of additional advice and training Police are receiving,” Harmon said.
Article 182 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana states, “…the holder of the office of President shall not be personally answerable to any court for the performance of the functions of his office or for any act done in the performance of those functions and no proceedings, whether criminal or civil, shall be instituted against him in his personal capacity in respect thereof either during his term of office or thereafter.”