Concerns were Thursday raised about the in-built majority of the parliamentary appointive committee that will decide who will be the Director of the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU) as well as about the possible leakage of bank account information.
The issues were raised during a public consultation on the Draft State Asset Recovery Bill held at the Pegasus Hotel under the auspices of the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affair, Basil Williams. While the Bill provides for civil action, legal experts say the Director is empowered to hand over certain issues to the relevant authority for criminal proceedings when it involves offences such as embezzlement, bribery and theft.
Williams sought to assure participants that the appointive committee was the best mechanism to select who should head the unit, based on recent experiences in deciding who should be the Director and Deputy Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and the members of the Public Procurement Commission (PPC).
Co-Chairman of the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) , Mike Mc Cormack’s concerns about the government-controlled appointive committee deciding who would be SARU’s Director came amid repeated concerns by the opposition People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) that that unit and the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) of the Guyana Police Force were stacked with political opponents and tasked to witch-hunt former PPPC ministers and other officials.
Mc Cormack said the apparent bipartisan involvement in the appointment of the SARU Director was in reality skewed in favour of the government which chairs the committee and has a majority of members. “It is effectively a partisan appointment given the powers that are being wielded are enormous,” he said.
However, the Attorney General said there is a different culture in the bipartisan parliamentary appointive committee in contrast to what is seen on the floor of the National Assembly during debates.”We believe that any other route will still raise doubts about partisanship and biasness,” he said. While the APNU+AFC and PPPC vote along party lines, the Attorney General attempted to convince Mc Cormack that the coalition’s six-parties would have separate views in the workings of Parliament.
Legal Officer of the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI), Nazla Faizoul hoped that law enforcement officials and investigators would not disclose clients’ information to other persons. “The banks are a bit concerned with the extent to which we are required to divulge customer information,” she said. Faizoul hoped that the proposed SARU would be held to the same level of confidentiality such as SOCU and FIU, although the law exempts banks from liability to disclose clients’ information to those agencies. “I just wanted to underscore the importance for us to limit the pool of persons as far as possible,” she said.
President of the Guyana Bar Association, Gem Sanford-Johnson said her organisation was concerned that the SARU law would merely empower one person- the Director of SARU- for the recovery of State Assets. “We wish to recommend that maybe a board should be put in place for that purpose,” he said.
Any intention to create a special court and at least two judges because our current legal system is the victim of back-logged cases and deal with cases in a quick manner
Responding, the Attorney General said a major consideration for having one Director was to preserve confidentiality as far as possibly. “A lot of these matters will be attended by secrecy and confidentiality because you don’t want anyone snitching on an operation so we consider this to be the best approach in dealing with the mischief that has been identified as endemic corruption,” he said. Williams said the establishment of a Special Court was a matter for the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh.
Addressing the opening of the public consultation on the SARU Bill, United States Ambassador to Guyana, Perry Holloway said his government fully supports the initiative to go after persons who would have stolen property belonging to the State of Guyana.
Attendees included SARU staff, Head of SOCU, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Sydney James, Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Hack; Public Security Minister, Khemraj Ramjattan; several Guyanese judges and former Caribbean Court of Justice Judge, Duke Pollard.