Despite government’s assurances that the two most senior officials of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) would be appointed by the National Assembly and that no one would be charged criminally, People’s Progressive Party (PPP) back-bencher Juan Edghill countered that the House’s bipartisan appointments committee is government dominated.
The SARA Bill, which was approved Thursday night by government’s simple one-seat majority and now awaits presidential assent, provides for SARA’s director and deputy director to be appointed by the bipartisan committee, but that is no comfort for Edghill.
“They (government) have a majority in the committee and they have a simple majority in the House. It is the government appointing their appointees but guising it as if it is a consensus bipartisan approach and that needs to be exposed,” he told the House.
Reacting to repeated claims by government parliamentarians that the law does not provide for criminal action against persons who possess state assets, and that they will not be charged or jailed; Edghill said a section of the law contemplates either criminal or civil action. “The law that is being passed determines if they will go criminal or civil. It’s either one or the other,” he said.
Concerns were also raised that SARA’s officials are made immune from prosecution against any act that they may commit in the execution of their duties.
Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman said the law empowers SARA to go after state assets even 12 years after opening the possibility of the coalition being targeted for the seizure of assets belonging to Guyana. “We have the courage and we have the sincerity to enact a law that stretches twelve years even after we come out of office whenever that day is appointed by God. We have bound ourselves, not to a one year time in futuro but to twelve years,” he said.
Edghill, a former Junior Finance Minister, up to May 2015 when the PPP lost power, used the opportunity to recommend that government takes several actions to fight corruption. They include taking legislation or regulations to house that would ultimately blacklist contractors who use financial influence n the award of contracts. “Let us gazette all those who have been blacklisted so hopefully everybody will know who are the corrupt people in this country,” he said. Other recommendations are for government to establish the Integrity Commission and ask parliamentarians to declare their assets, adjust the public service rules to allow for departmental investigations if there is reasonable suspicion even if someone is acquitted by the court and provide more staff and funds to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to go after corrupt members of the judiciary. “I am making these recommendations, Sir, and I am saying if we are serious about corruption, we have to deal with these issues,” said Edghill.
The PPPC parliamentarian also reiterated that the current officials of the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) are political players and he suggested that they would be retained by SARA when it is established under the new law.
The PPP said it would challenge the law in the Constitutional Court of the High Court.
The SARA Bill, government said, was born out of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption that was ratified by Guyana in 2008.