Amid lingering concerns in some sections of Guyanese society about why the coalition government had not fired Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Presidency, Omar Sharif shortly after assuming office more than one year ago, political analysts were Thursday offering mixed views about his arrest for alleged financial crimes.
Sharif was a staunch supporter of the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) until it lost power in May 2015. Immediately after its defeat, he remained as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Presidency, formerly Office of the Presidency, until his arrest for alleged money laundering and tax evasion. In a letter dated June 30, 2016 to Mr. Sharif, Minister of State Joseph Harmon wrote, “You will recall having informed me that you are now the subject of an investigation by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) of the Guyana Police Force.” The Minister informed Sharif in that letter that he should proceed on his Annual Leave from July 1, 2016 to enable him to fully cooperate with the investigation.
Political analyst, Dr. Henry Jeffrey said the decision by the government to retain Sharif as Permanent Secretary in such a key office can be interpreted to mean that the David Granger-led administration is not opposed to working with its detractors unless they are suspected of criminal activity. “Not getting rid of him would have been their way of saying they are working with PPP people without any bias but if now he is charged by police with this crime…this chap would have demonstrate that even people the coalition is willing to work with they are willing to go after,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.
However, Political Science Professor, David Hinds, who has been leading the charge for those implicated in administrative and criminal wrongdoing in the numerous audit of state-owned entities to be sent home, welcomed the move to probe Sharif. “At the end of the day we are seeing movement in this direction. I do hope that this is not just a one-off situation because you have been seeing improprieties and instances of financial mismanagement are across the board so I am hoping that this move against the Permanent Secretary is not directed at him alone and that it is the beginning of a longer process,” said Hinds, an executive member of the Working People’s Alliance which is part of the governing coalition.
Political Scientist, Freddie Kissoon also welcomed SOCU’s probe into Sharif’s financial dealings but believed that the coalition government should have taken swift action into Prado Ville Two, an upscale seaside residential area where Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo and several other top PPP officials live. That area was once the radio transmitting site for the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN). Kissoon hoped that Sharif’s arrest marks the beginning of a wave of similar actions which he says should be welcomed by supporters of the governing coalition. “The satisfaction will be natural because the past 15 years, the financial skullduggery has been nightmarish but I am not certain how swift it may be , how climatic it may be; we may very well end up with an anti-climatic situation in which senior officials will be charged but the ministers will go scotch-free.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo described Sharif as “a cherished member of the government for over a year” after he resigned from the PPP. Noting that he had no details about the circumstances that led to the Permanent Secretary’s arrest for alleged financial crimes Jagdeo reiterated that the law must take its course. “If people have done anything illegal then they must face the consequences and so once there is an impartial, fair investigation and they police have available grounds for laying charges and once he is being treated fairly then I don’t have anything much to say; the law will have to take its course,” said Jagdeo.
The PPP has been arguing that the dismissal and prosecution of a number of persons was part of a witch-hunt against East Indians and pro-PPP Afro-Guyanese.
Minister of State Harmon explained that Sharif was arrested in connection with a probe by SOCU because of the large amounts of money he has been in possession of. “This is money laundering and tax evasion matters since its large sums of money that he has in his personal accounts,” Harmon told reporters.
Harmon said the investigations into Sharif’s financial dealings had nothing to do with his work at the Ministry of the Presidency. “These matters which came up are of a personal nature and they have to do with his own personal, private arrangement and have nothing to do with his actual office of Permanent Secretary,” he said.
Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Communities, Abena Moore would be acting as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of the Presidency now that Sharif has been sent on annual leave to facilitate SOCU’s probe.