The now-disbanded State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) was a “politically toxic” organisation and a “parasite on the backs of tax payers” which gobbled up close to one billion dollars with nothing to show what it has accomplished over the past five years.
This is according to Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, who was at the time detailing the reasons for the PPP/C Government moving ahead with scrapping the Unit and terminating over forty employees.
“The only thing they (SARA) have done is to file legal proceedings; and all are defective…all would have been lost or will be lost when they are ruled upon,” he expressed during a recent programme he hosted on his social media page.
Nandlall reminded that then President David Granger himself was forced to admit publicly that they couldn’t find any evidence of state assets being stolen to prosecute anyone.
“Not a lead pencil, or pen was recovered,” he said, adding, “why should the Government keep an organisation like that.”
SARA, Nandlall contended was “plundering the treasury and becoming a parasite on the backs of the Guyanese people.”
The Attorney General explained that the agency was renting a building for $2.1M monthly on Main Street, Georgetown, adding that the tenancy never went to public procurement. This, he said, was in addition to massive salaries for staff and huge overhead costs the agency incurred.
According to Nandlall, when the APNU/AFC Coalition took the reigns of power in 2015, “they persuaded themselves that there was massive stealing of state assets under the PPP/C administration” and they subsequently commissioned over a hundred forensic audits.
However, he explained that the forensic audits, which costed tax payers millions of dollars, did not produce a single case of the “stealing of state assets” under the PPP/C administration as the Coalition had claimed.
He highlighted that “in that mad mood that they were in” the Coalition created the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) which was a precursor to SARA, and it was housed in the Office of the President and staffed with politically-aligned persons.
The top ranking SARA officials included; Clive Thomas and Tacuma Ogunseye, two of the leaders of the Working People’s Alliance (WPA) – a constituent of the APNU/AFC coalition – and Eric Phillips, a political advisor to former President David Granger.
“Right away that was a politically toxic organisation, and it began only to hunt politicians,” Nandlall told viewers.
According to the AG, it was during that time that several PPP/C Government officials, including himself, were arrested and charged without any basis.
Subsequently, SARA was established via a Bill in the National Assembly. However, he noted that from the moment the bill became public it evoked widespread criticism from the political Opposition, as well as many civil society organisations, such as the Guyana Bar Association, the Private Sector Commission and the labour movement.
He explained that to weather the storm, the former Attorney General, Mr. Basil Williams S.C., held a few public consultations “which turned out to be placatory and futile as over one hundred (100) amendments were recommended, but none were incorporated into the bill.”
Within days of its assent, a comprehensive constitutional challenge was mounted against the State Assets Recovery Act No 14 of 2017, by public commentator, Ramon Gaskin. The challenge impugned approximately 90 of the 107 Sections of the Act, as being unconstitutional and in flagrant violation of the separation of powers. That issue is still before the Chief Justice awaiting a decision.
Nandlall added that Thomas and Aubrey Heath-Retemyer, a member of the PNC-USA group, arrogated the power to appoint themselves in gross violation of the SARA Act, as Director and Deputy Director of SARA, respectively.
“Messrs Thomas and Retemyer appointed themselves and determined their term of office, in complete disregard and violation of the aforementioned provisions. An action was filed in the High Court challenging their appointment and that action is also pending,” the AG said.
“If they are illegal, then all forty (other employees) are illegal,” he argued.
Nandlall on Tuesday indicated that the PPP/C Government closed down SARA and dispatched termination letters to its employees.
He outlined that the Government will undertake to strengthen asset recovery components of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AMLCFT) legislation as well as enacting legislations utilising the Caricom model of State asset recovery, in respect of State assets acquired illegally. He noted that this model legislation is in consonance with the laws and the Constitution of Guyana.