Members of Parliament (MPs) representing the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) took a jab at British fraud expert and advisor to the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Dr Sam Sittlington asking him to resign for turning a blind eye to the many instances of Government corruption.
This call was made at an anti-bribery and corruption forum organised for members of the National Assembly on Wednesday that was held in the Parliament Chambers. The event was attended by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, among others.
Leading the Opposition charge was MP Harry Gill, who took offence to Sittlington’s speech which focused entirely on corruption practices. The MP told the British fraud expert that focus should be placed on matters here instead.
“You have turned a blind eye to reports of corruption right here in the Government,” Gill said. He made reference to the controversial Sussex Street drug
bond and the construction of D’Urban Park.
When the MP asked Sittlington why none of these cases had been investigated, he said none of the cases have been referred to SOCU and the Unit cannot go out on its own to conduct these investigations.
“None of the cases you mentioned were referred to SOCU or the Police Commissioner. As an investigator, I welcome any case that comes to SOCU,” the British expert said.
On that note, Gill said the fact that Sittlington was employed by the State posed a conflict of interest problem for him to investigate acts of corruption by State agencies.
The Prime Minister and Ramjattan both defended the UK expert, stating that the Opposition MPs came with a motive to disparage Sittlington, describing them as a “lynch gang with a clear intention”.
In his defence, Sittlington advised that SOCU can only investigate matters that are referred to the Police or cases referred by the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, the Financial Intelligence Unit, or the Fraud Squad.
Further, he said progress has been made which is important to Guyana’s international image. He added good governance is an effective way of tempering business exploitation while reflecting good management.
“The importance of showing leadership and responsibility in this regard will give confidence to foreign governments and commercial entities that you are a nation that could do more business with and provide further investment,” he added.
Sittlington’s presentation was centred around five of the principles under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). Guyana ratified the UNCAC in 2008.
He explained that bribery and corruption range from petty to grand, and stressed that strong anti-corrupt internal systems that reinforce partiality, transparency, zero tolerance and communication with the public can be developed to counter negative perceptions.
Despite previous complaints from the PPP, the UK white-collar crime expert returned to Guyana in January for another stint working with SOCU.
Following Sittlington’s initial appointment, SOCU, in a bold move on March 7, 2017, had arrested and questioned a number of top officials from the previous Government. Among those arrested and questioned were former President Bharrat Jagdeo, and former Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon.
Other former Government officials questioned included former Prime Minister and former President, Samuel Hinds; former Ministers Priya Manickchand, Irfaan Ali, Clement Rohee, Robert Persaud and Dr Jennifer Westford. One commonality in their questioning was in relation to property purchased at the Sparendaam seawall area on the East Coast that is commonly known as “Pradoville 2”.
While the current Administration contends that the transaction is a criminal act because of the belief that the land was sold below market value, the PPP has argued that subsidised housing has always been a part of the legacy of the Party, and countless Guyanese have benefited from lands sold below market value.
No further action was ever pursued against these former officials, and the arrests prompted resounding cries that the Executive has been giving orders to SOCU to attack former Government officials as part of a witch-hunting exercise.
A glass of wine
Two days after these events, Ramjattan, along with SOCU Head Sydney James and Sittlington, had a rendezvous at a popular city café, and were seen clinking glasses in an extremely celebratory atmosphere in the dimly lit establishment.
Ramjattan later confirmed to <<<Guyana Times>>> that he and the SOCU officials had been having some drinks at the popular spot, which usually is not open to the public after dark. According to Ramjattan, he had gone to “have a glass of wine” with the SOCU officials as they celebrated Dr Sittlington’s work here in Guyana, since the expert had been due to leave soon.
At a subsequent press conference, Jagdeo had questioned the motive behind the gathering, noting that “to drink wine immediately after arrests were made warrants a full-fledged investigation”.
According to the Opposition Leader, given that the coalition Government has launched several Commissions of Inquiry, President David Granger should do the same with regard to this matter, since it threatened the country’s independence and dignity.