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Jagdeo to boycott anti-corruption walk organised by State Assets Recovery Agency

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo.

Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo will be boycotting an anti-corruption walk being organised by the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) on the grounds that that agency was being used as a tool to target government’s political opponents and it has done nothing to curb increasing incidents of alleged corruption by government.

“The Leader of the Opposition will not participate in this “symbolic walk” as it is a mere “smoke screen” to detract from the grossest violations of the constitutional and statutory provisions regarding financial probity, transparency and accountability ever witnessed since independence.

Furthermore, it will not participate in such a walk while members and other public officials of successive PPPC government have been discriminated against, victimized, and targeted by a state-sponsored witch-hunt on frivolous manufactured charges,” Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira told SARA’s Director, Clive Thomas in a letter dated April 16, 2018.

Jagdeo’s presidential tenure had been characterised by allegation in sections of the media about widespread corruption, partly resulting in his People’s Progressive Party’s defeat at the May 2015 general and regional elections.

Head of the State Assets Recovery Agency, Professor Clive Thomas.

Teixeira, however, assured Thomas that the Opposition Leader “supports any efforts that will strengthen the state’s institutional, legal and procedural framework for fighting corruption” in keeping with the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, the UN Convention Against Corruption and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Opposition Leader’s Office did not cite any instances of the current government stealing or being in unlawful possession of state assets, but  used the opportunity to question the SARA Director’s apparent failure to combat corruption by the David Granger-led administration.

“In conclusion, the passage of the SARA Act has given you, sir, enormous, in fact, super powers —something we abhor as it is in total contravention to human rights and due process- but sir you have those powers so why have you taken no action as a so-called anti-corruption champion to bring members of the present government to book? As they say clean your own house so that others can see the light and know you are serious about fighting corruption!,” Teixeira told Thomas.

Acknowledging the accuracy of the theme for the walk that “Corruption is everyone’s business”, she urged Professor Thomas to “demonstrate to the Guyanese people that it is yours.”

The Auditor General’s Annual Report for 2016, she said, found 82 breaches of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act and 71 breaches of the Procurement Act.

Citing Public Health Minister, Volda Lawrence’s order that the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation purchase GY$620 million in pharmaceuticals in 2017 from an identified supplier without going through the procurement process, the rental of a drugs bond at Sussex Street for GY$14 million without procurement, spending of GY$2 billion on constructing the Jubilee D’urban Park in time for the 50th Independence anniversary

“Despite repeated demands, they cannot produce any credible records to the Office of the Auditor General, in relation to this project. This matter was also brought to the attention of the newly appointed constitutional Public Procurement Commission in September 2017 to investigate and no action has been taken,” Texeira added.

She also recalled that in September 2017 the contract for a pre-feasibility study for a New Demerara Harbour Bridge was found to have been awarded to a company that did not bid despite there was a public tender where 12 companies bid and one was shortlisted. The Opposition Leader’s Office further cited government’s surreptitious negotiation of a petroleum sharing agreement with ExxonMobil in 2016, and the stashing of US$18 million signing bonus from ExxonMobil in a Bank of Guyana account.

“The government’s sale of the country’s newly found oil and natural gas resources for a pittance is a shame on all Guyanese and a stain Guyana will have to endure for decades to come. Even the IMF and countless international petroleum watchdog bodies have found this to be a flawed agreement in violation of basic acceptable international standards for first discovery oil countries and have noted that  Guyana will be grossly disadvantaged from reaping it’s just rewards,” Teixeira added.

The Opposition Leader’s Office reiterated its concerns that government was manipulating the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and directs the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to “institute fabricated and malicious charges against political opponents and highly qualified professional Guyanese, who have served their country and their people with distinction.”

Almost one week after former Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh and former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington were charged in their absence with misconduct in public office in connection with the sale of three large tracts of land outside of valuation. “The frivolous charges instituted against Dr. Ashni Singh and Mr. Winston Brassington are simply the most recent, and, we have no doubt others will be made victims of this vindictive and undemocratic regime,” she said.

The acquisition of seaside housing lands at Goedverwagting-Sparendaam-Plaisance (Pradoville 2) by Jagdeo, several of his Cabinet members, the Director of Public Prosecutions Shalimar Hack, then Chief-of-Staff, Retired Rear Admiral Gary Best and then President of the Caribbean Development Bank, Professor Compton Bourne; business executive, Ramesh Dookhoo, among others has been the subject of long-running probe by SOCU and SARA.