Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan on Tuesday defended what is considered to be an illegal occupancy of the position of Director of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) by Professor Clive Thomas.
Ramjattan told this newspaper on the sidelines of an event at the Ramada Georgetown Princess Hotel that “he is there lawfully…he has been there for a couple of years now and all of a sudden people feel that he’s illegal? Apparently, this illegal viral is all over the place.”
Professor Thomas was Head of the State Assets Recovery Unit – which was the name of the organisation when it was operating without a legislative framework.
However, in 2017, the requisite legislation was passed, prompting SARU to be renamed SARA.
The SARA Act stipulates that “Within a period of not more than four months from the date of commencement of this Act, the Parliamentary Committee on appointments on the notification by the Minister shall recommend to the National Assembly a person to be appointed as Director of the SARA”.
However, this was never done and Professor Thomas has remained as Head of SARA – which goes against the law.
Notably, Professor Thomas was politically appointed to that post and this raises concern about the credibility and integrity of the work of that agency which is empowered to seize citizens’ assets.
In fact, according to the law, the Head of SARA will be answerable to no one.
One of the major concerns of stakeholders was that of SARA’s Head being bestowed with a seemingly unlimited amount of power, practically second to the President’s.
SARA recently filed lawsuits against several persons including former President Bharrat Jagdeo in relation to the sale of lands at Sparendaam, popularly known as “Pradoville 2”.
But Jagdeo said he is unbothered by this action since he believes it is just politics at play.
The Opposition Leader recently said that the Director and Deputy Director of SARA, Aubrey Heath-Retemyer are holding their respective posts illegally. He argued that the SARA Act provides very clearly that their appointments shall be made through a parliamentary process.
The Opposition has argued too that a transition provision in the Act allowed the Director, who operated in the agency before the Act came into force, to continue to act in that office for a limited period. They noted, however, that the period has long expired.
Jagdeo recalled that SARA had stated publicly that they are working on some high-profile cases, with recoveries above US$10 million and these cases would be filed by the third quarter of 2018, which they did not do. Instead, they have gone to the Pradoville issue.
Jagdeo had said that SARA is just another means for the Government to secure employment for retired citizens. “If you shut down SARA, you can hire 400 people. Where are these US$10 million cases that SARA was supposed to discover, (they said) that how many people had US$10 million and above abroad? What is happening with them? They are just wasting our money.”
After Guyana Times had published an article on the lavish salaries of the executives, the organisation later came out explaining the remunerations.
“Our monthly earnings are listed for the public to see… the basic salary for the Director is $1 million per month with added allowances, he moves up to $1,080,000. The Assistant is $700,000 and with some allowances he moves up to $780,000 per month,” Heath-Retmeyer said.