by Gary Eleazar
Head of Guyana’s State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), Professor Clive Thomas has rejected outright claims by the opposition Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP) that the agency is engaged in a ‘witch-hunt’ against its members, since it is merely probing complaints made.
In fact, he said it was the People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) Bharrat Jagdeo -led administration which signed the international convention that gave birth to SARU.
in on persons against whom complaints have been levied against.
“People make complaints to us, people come they make complaints…People have written to us and said these state assets have been removed and we know where they are,” according to Professor Thomas.
He said, following receipt of the complaints SARU would firstly investigate to ascertain, “if its is true or not.”
Professor Thomas told Demerara Waves, that in most cases where state assets were found to be in the hands of private individuals, “people have given them back.” He said these recovered assets to date have mostly involved “quite a bit of” state vehicles and some instances of land.
Further rejecting the claims of a coalition led witch-hunt against the PPP top-brass, Professor Thomas reminded that SARU, which is housed in the Ministry of the Presidency, has been established as a result of obligations under the United Nations(UN) Convention Against Corruption.
“That convention was signed onto by the Jagdeo government, it is not something signed onto by the coalition government…we didn’t invent it,” he declared.
According to Professor Thomas, under that Convention there is a ‘Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative’ run by the World Bank and the UN.
The SARU head made it clear the unit at present does not have a conviction-based approach in the recovery of stolen assets as “all it does is it recovers assets acquired based on unlawful conduct.”
He posited possible instances of tax evasion and failure to fulfill the obligations to the Integrity Commission by identified public officials as instances where SARU would possibly also want to investigate.
According to Professor Thomas, “if you have resources that amounts to, lets say billions of dollars, then you have to show you paid your taxes.”
Asked to justify the operations in the absence of any specific or substantive covering legislation, which has led to mounting criticism, Professor Thomas said the unit currently operates as a Department of the Ministry of the Presidency.
He said, in the absence of legislation specifically tailoured for SARU, the outfit is still operating under the provisions of existing laws in place.
He pointed to the request by SARU for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to proceed with a criminal investigation into the affairs of the ‘Pradoville II’ properties, involving several past government Ministers and high ranking public officials including former President Jagdeo.
According to Professor Thomas, “anybody can ask the DPP to pursue a of crime, that’s their right.”
Draft Bill Ready
On the matter of the long awaited legislation bringing SARU into the law books, Professor Thomas told Demerara Waves that the International Consultant, Brian Horne, has completed the Draft Bill and that the document will be subjected to another round of consultations in the coming month.
Professor Thomas opined that the final draft should be ready for a debate and vote in the House when the National Assembly comes out of its annual August recess in September.
He said the legislation would be welcomed, since it would also mean greater autonomy for the unit as it will no longer be functioning as a department within the Ministry of the Presidency and would help to remove any perceptions in relation to outfit’s modus operandi.
Meanwhile, Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman echoed Professor Thomas’ views about the legal status and function of SARU. Trotman said SARU is a “legitimate” department of the Ministry of the Presidency, salaries are paid and requisitions are made. “That gives them legal authority. Insofar as prosecuting authority, agreeably they are unable to prosecute but certainly as a State Asset Recovery Unit they have a right to investigate and to report and then enforcement arms of the State- police, DPP’s Chambers- they can take up the prosecution. There is nothing to suggest in my view that SARU is without any legal cloak,” he said.