The People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) – the major governing APNU+AFC coalition partner – on Friday shrugged off suggestions that the incumbent coalition would find it hard to convince supporters that enough has been done to convict death squad members and alleged corrupt officials of the past administration under the PPPC.
PNCR Chairperson Volda Lawrence said government could invoke the Witness Protection Act to offer security to witnesses who continue to fear giving evidence or testifying before the courts.
Lawrence said the governing coalition kept its promise to probe certain allegations, but “we are at a juncture now where we’re unable, because of fear, to get those persons to agree to go and give witness on the stand.” “We believe that, as we continue to work with those persons, that they will feel more comfortable, given our passing of the Whistleblowers legislation [Protected Disclosures Act] which can, to my knowledge, give them security, which can provide them with other opportunities to take care of the fears which they now harbour,” she added.
The major stumbling block, she said, has been the inability to get fearful witnesses to back up investigations that could lead to successful prosecutions. “Despite the various investigations launched, that we failed to be able to do right now is to get the witnesses to come forward because people are still afraid,” she told a PNCR news conference on Friday.
Lawrence hoped that government would be able to use the Witness Protection Bill to give witnesses the confidence to come forward and give evidence and “substantiate many of the ills that were done in this country”. She maintained that her party’s accusations were fact-based and there are many grieving survivors.
Despite the fact that the Guyana Police Force’s Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) has lost numerous cases, she said the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs would “utilise the grounds for appeal” in alleged fraud cases against several now former officials of the Guyana Rice Development Board (GRDB). A city magistrate recently dismissed all the charges against the accused on the grounds that the SOCU prosecutor had not appeared in court on numerous occasions.
But, Lawrence said recommendations are in the pipeline to strengthen SOCU and also go after several GRDB officials “from other angles”
Only former Housing Minister, Irfaan Ali has been charged in connection with the sale of several parcels of now upgraded seaside residential lands to former President Bharrat Jagdeo and his ministers as well as former Chief of Staff, Retired Rear Admiral Gary Best; Director of Public Prosecutions, Shalimar Hack, and former President of the Caribbean Development Bank, Professor Compton Bourne. Fraud charges are also pending against former Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh and former Head of the Privatisation Unit/National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington.
Best, now a PNCR executive member, is already on record as saying that the GDF did not have concrete evidence that could have linked convicted Guyanese drug trafficker, Shaheed ‘Roger’ Khan to any major crimes, but probably some of the information, if processed, could have led to prosecutions.
Khan, who was deported from the United States last month after serving a lengthy jail term for drug trafficking, had been arrested and questioned in connection with the separate gunning down of Afro-Guyanese activist, Ronald Waddell and former boxing coach Donald Allison.
Khan has since been released on station bail and ordered to report to police weekly, while police gather more information based on advice by the Director of Public Prosecutions.