Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo’s Office on Saturday said that the rule of law in Guyana was under threat and it has urged the international community to pay close attention to recent developments.
In a strongly-worded statement, Jagdeo’s Office singled out recent declarations made and actions taken by the Head of the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), Dr Clive Thomas, who it said is openly hostile to the PPP; and “politically directed” interference in the operations of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), both of which are aimed at witch-hunting members of the parliamentary opposition and the leaders of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C).
It said it noted public commitments from the diplomatic community to lending technical and financial assistance to SARU, but argued that the unit’s role as designed since the change of government is to “target, pronounce and make wild unsubstantiated accusations” against the parliamentary opposition and leaders of the PPP/C, while proceeding to try these very individuals publicly.
The claim that new legislation is required in order to bring charges against persons who are accused of criminal offences with regards to state assets is false, according to the statement, which highlighted that already there are existing laws to bring such charges.
In objecting to the new legislation to institutionalise SARU, Jagdeo’s Office argued that it appears to relate more to entrenching SARU as an entity in law with powers overriding the Guyana Police Force, the Audit Office of Guyana and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Meanwhile, turning the attention to Dr Thomas, the opposition leader’s office said that the SARU head seems to have a personal vendetta against the PPP.
“Public statements by the Head of the SARU, Dr Clive Thomas, are illustrative. He appears to be consumed with a personal vendetta against the PPP. In fact, his hostility is not exclusively his; the entire Unit is composed of leading APNU/AFC political operatives, some of whom were APNU and AFC Members of the 10th Parliament,” his office said.
The statement reminded that SARU is financed through the budget of the Ministry of the Presidency and alleged that the Unit has been created with the objective of leading the “witch hunt” of the present parliamentary opposition and leaders of the PPP.
Focusing attention on SOCU, Jagdeo’s Office reminded that the Unit was created with the sole purpose of investigating money laundering and the financing of terrorism under the AntiMoney Laundering and Countering the Financing for Terrorism (AMLCFT) Act, but is now the operational arm that is being used to target opposition members.
“This concern of the parliamentary opposition is further bolstered by recent public statements by Cabinet Ministers which are particularly ominous,” the statement highlighted.
It reminded that during the 2016 Budget Debates, in February, the Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan promised to make the protocols that guide SOCU’s operations public in a matter of weeks, a promise he is still to fulfil.
It also reminded that one government spokesman Minister Raphael Trotman at a press conference a month ago declared that the protocols were not complete, while Minister of State Joseph Harmon last week stated that SOCU operates within the laws of Guyana, thereby side-stepping the issue of the promised protocols.
It was SOCU, the statement said, with army personnel which lead a botched high-speed chase on the car transporting the wife of PPP/C Parliamentarian Charles Ramson Jr, resulting in three persons being killed and the subsequent declaration by the government that there will be no investigation into the incident, while no agency or person has so far accepted responsibility.
Jagdeo’s Office said that the fact that $40 million has been allocated in the 2016 Budget of the Ministry of the Presidency for a “top up” of the SOCU staff, is highly suspect and facilitates an environment for overt political interference.
“Exacerbating our concerns is the recent public statement by Minister Jaipaul Sharma that the Cabinet would be deciding who was going to be charged as a result of the forensic audits carried out in various Ministries and state entities. Furthermore, the Office of the Leader of the Opposition is aware of the existence of a list containing the names of political leaders of the PPP/C and non-PPP/C individuals who are to be targeted by the SOCU. This list originated from no other than the Ministry of the Presidency,” the statement noted.
It added that government’s silence with regard to the public call by Jagdeo for a specialised firm or Interpol to track the assets of all MPs and former Presidents is of particular interest in the context of these developments.
“Therefore, our concerns regarding these trends which are undermining the rule of law in Guyana are not emotive, but, based on the very actions and statements made by senior government Ministers and the SARU, coupled with actions of the SOCU. These reveal a stealthy intrusion of the executive into the independence of the prosecutorial and judicial arms of the state by the APNU/AFC Coalition government,” the statement said.
Jagdeo’s Office is also alerting the Guyanese public, civil society bodies, the diplomatic and donor communities of what it terms “worrying developments which are an indicator of creeping authoritarianism undermining democracy, human rights and the rule of law.