Finance Minister should apologise over accident indiscretion – Goolsarran

Columnist Anand Goolsarran says that Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh should apologise to the public over his behaviour in a February 23rd accident in which two persons were slightly injured and the minister was accused of driving under the influence and leaving the scene without rendering help.

In his column in yesterday’s Stabroek News entitled `Ministerial accountability and the public interest’, Goolsarran adverted to a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi: “A clean confession, combined with a promise never to commit the sin again, when offered before one who has the right to receive it, is the purest form of repentance”, and said that Singh should reflect on these words.

“Putting aside the overwhelming evidence that the Minister might have broken the law, he may very well be advised to seriously reflect on the above words from Gandhi and in all humility do the honourable thing by apologising to the citizens of this country for indiscretion. Unless he does so, the issue will not be forgotten and will leave an indelible stain on him for years to come. Other elected representatives who have indulged in similar transgressions and other acts of indiscretion should follow suit”, Goolsarran, a former long-serving Auditor General, said.

Dr Ashni Singh
Dr Ashni Singh

Goolsarran said that Attorney General, Anil Nandlall instead of advising the Minister of his legal and moral obligations in relation to the accident, chose to defend his ministerial colleague.

“His explanation appeared confusing in that on the one hand, he stated that he did so in his official capacity while in the other, he claimed that he was acting in his private capacity”, Goolsarran, head of the local transparency body said.

To compound matters, Goolsarran said that under public pressure, the Police issued a statement that it was following a special procedure, “previously unheard of, for dealing with accidents involving high ranking public officials.” The police have since sought the advice of the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Goolsarran contrasted the Guyana situation with that of Trinidad and Tobago where he noted that Minister Collin Pertab was stopped by the Police after leaving a nightclub, refused to take a breathalyser test and was not only relieved of his position but also charged, found guilty and fined. In another Trinidad case involving a minister, the police made it clear it was not necessary to seek the advice of the DPP because the issue was a clear cut one. Goolsarran also referred to the Trinidad PM, Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s handling of other cases involving ministers where stern action was taken.   She recently revoked the appointment of Social Development Minister Glenn Ramadharsingh who behaved disorderly while on board a domestic flight. Goolsarran pointed out that the Prime Minister dismissed him despite the fact that he had apologized for his actions.

After several weeks, the police here dispatched a file on the Singh case to the Chambers of the DPP for advice. The DPP has since returned the file to the police but Eve Leary has not said anything further about it.

The driver of the other vehicle and his passenger, Jageshwar Hira and Parbattie Shivcharan respectively, were compensated by the minister following the accident, however they signed a non-disclosure agreement with Singh and his legal counsel, Nandlall.

In an invited comment, Head of the Guyana Bar Association, Ronald Burch-Smith, had told Stabroek News that “the danger is generally that when somebody is offering compensation before the matter reaches to  court or while it is in court, very often they have an expectation that as a result of that compensation the injured party will forgo a prosecution.”

Burch-Smith had called the sluggish manner in which the investigation was being done incredibly telling of the police’s deficiencies in investigating persons of standing within society.

Hira had told Stabroek News at the scene on February 23rd: “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 …,”

The AG in a statement on February 27, said that “At or about 21:00 hours on 23rd February, 2014 at the junction of Garnett and Delph Streets, Campbell-ville, Greater Georgetown, the Honourable Minister of Finance was involved in a vehicular collision with a motor car.

“The Minister was taken to a city hospital for medical attention shortly after the accident. An associate of the Minister facilitated the driver of the vehicle and the lone passenger to be taken to a city hospital for medical treatment.

“The matter was duly reported to the police and is being investigated.

“Without prejudice to the rights of all the parties to seek legal recourse, the Attorney General met with the driver, the owner of the vehicle and the passenger with a view of exploring the possibility of bringing the matter to an amicable end.”

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