US refuses to provide Guyana info on seized Home Ministry PS’ phone

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 April 2023, 8:44 by Denis Chabrol

Ms. Mae Toussaint Jr.-Thomas

The United States (US) has formally refused to share any information about the reason for seizing the mobile phone of Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs, Mae Toussaint Jr.- Thomas, but pointed to standard reasons for checking on incoming passengers.

Her phone was taken away by US Customs Border and Protection (CBP) agents on her arrival in the US en route to China. The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Elisabeth Harper sought to enquire from the US the reason for confiscating Ms Toussaint Jr.-Thomas’ phone but was told that nothing could be provided.

“We do not have any specific information to share,” US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Adrienne Galanek told Ms Harper on Friday in response to an enquiry hours after an enquiry appeared in the Stabroek News. Sources said the American Embassy’s correspondence merely reproduced standard CBP reasons for conducting secondary checks on all incoming foreigners and American citizens. “If CBP officers at a port of entry need more information to determine your admissibility into the US; you may be directed to an interview area known as secondary inspection,”  the document states.

The American Embassy advised the Guyana government that CBP agents could ask detailed information about the purpose for visiting the US, travel history and they and their belongings could be searched thoroughly. “Such inspections may include a search of all electronic information stored on your laptop, cell phone and other electronic device,” the Guyana government official said the document stated.

A senior Guyana government official subsequently told Demerara Waves Online News that “they (US) don’t have an obligation; it is something they can share.” “If they wish to, they don’t share. It is not something that they are legally or statutorily required to do. It is a courtesy,” the official said.

The official said the Guyana government was not formally notified of the incident and so the Guyana government would await the PS’ return to Georgetown. “We’re really in the dark about what happened,” the official said.

Home Affairs Minister Robeson Benn said when the Permanent Secretary returns, she would be debriefed about what transpired and then contact would be made with the relevant authorities.

The Permanent Secretary’s mobile phone could potentially contain sensitive national security information as well as communication with top government and ruling People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) officials, as she is the most senior civil servant responsible for police, immigration, prisons, the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit and the Registry of Births and Deaths.