Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh last evening declined to comment on an accident he was involved in on Sunday which has raised questions about his conduct at the scene and why the police seemed to have taken no interest in the matter.
The accident at Delph Avenue and Garnett Street left two occupants of the other vehicle slightly injured. The two have told the media that Singh appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and left the scene of the accident without rendering assistance to them and before the police took charge of the matter. When Singh was approached last evening at Parliament by Stabroek News he declined comment on the accident.
Yesterday, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) stated that the rule of law has to be applicable to all and Singh and the police were under scrutiny.
Executive member of APNU, Joseph Harmon, stated that “we will have to see if in fact the police will institute charges against him for either dangerous driving, reckless driving or driving under the influence of alcohol.”
He said that the entire incident has been handled poorly and that there cannot be two sets of laws established:
one for the elite and one for the poor. Harmon stated that no one was above the law. He stated at an APNU press conference yesterday held at the Leader of the Opposition’s office, that there was a severe blurring of responsibilities within the government. He told Stabroek News that the Attorney General is paid by the State and he is essentially legal counsel for the government and that he “cannot go and rightly represent Dr Ashni Singh.” Harmon also cited Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee functioning as General Secretary of the ruling PPP.
Harmon said that Nandlall and Rohee were charged with State responsibilities and have a requirement to give their full attention to the State. He said that “Rohee must be able to distinguish what are his political duties and his duties to the nation as a whole as the minister responsible for public security.”
Harmon was speaking in response to Rohee’s recent comments at a PPP press conference in which he called Dr Singh’s accident a police matter and refused to comment further on possible charges and the lack of a breathalyser being administered by the police although he is the home affairs minister. Rohee has been vocal in the past in calling on the police force to act with diligence. Critics contend that the lack of a government response to Singh’s accident is telling of the government’s attempts to downplay the incident.
Meanwhile, Nandlall told Stabroek News yesterday that as the attorney general he was the legal counsel for Singh noting that Singh “was driving a government vehicle, he was minister of finance when he was driving.” Others differ as they say that Singh was not on official business at the time of the accident.
Nandlall continued “there is no division, a minister does not stop being a minister during the course of the day”. He told Stabroek News that there was no conflict of interest in his role as minister and counsel for Singh when this publication asked.
On Tuesday, Nandlall met with the two other persons involved in the accident and conducted discussions in relation to a settlement package at the office of the attorney general. Singh did not comment on the likelihood of any charges which may be drawn against the finance minister and neither did the finance minister when questioned by Stabroek News yesterday.
Speaking with Stabroek News, lawyer Raphael Trotman, said that legally speaking failing to render assistance once an accident has occurred and failing report an accident to the police can and should result in charges. Trotman, also Speaker of the National Assembly, stated in an invited comment that even if private compensation was to be worked out persons were still required under the law to render assistance if they were in a position to do so.
He noted that with only three working breathalysers across Guyana, administering tests could be difficult. Singh was never given a breathalyser test and the office of the finance minister is yet to release a statement on the matter.
The accident occurred when Singh failed to yield to oncoming traffic. He left the scene at Delph Avenue and Garnett Street minutes after the accident occurred and was picked up by a Ministry of Agriculture vehicle.
The driver of the other vehicle involved in the incident, Jageshwar Hira and passenger Parbattie Shivcharan met with Nandlall on Tuesday to discuss their request for a $6 million dollar settlement. Hira told Stabroek News “the attorney general tell us that they are working on a settlement, but he is already saying that they are working on a settlement well below a million dollars.”
Both Hira and Shivcharan are requesting that their medical bills also be paid. Businessman Brian Yong had gone to the scene of the accident and offered the driver compensation for his vehicle and to pay for medical bills incurred. Yong paid Shivcharan’s medical bills on Monday. When Stabroek News inquired if the compensation was offered on the behalf of the finance minister, Yong had refused to comment and said “Don’t call my phone ever again.”
Hira has stated that on Sunday, Singh left the scene while he and Shivcharan stayed and waited for a police officer to arrive.
They then went to the hospital and then reported the incident to the police at the Kitty Police Station.
“I was coming down this street [west on Garnett Street, Campbellville] and this vehicle was coming out of this road [Delph Avenue] and just jump the major road, slam into me sending we into that gutter… The man come out then we see is the finance minister but he ain’t even offer help. He just jump into another vehicle and drive off leaving we hay …”, Hira had told Stabroek News at the scene on Sunday.