Businessman Omprakash ‘Buddy’ Shivraj and some of his employees are being accused of assaulting and threatening members of a National Insurance Scheme (NIS) inspection team last Friday, when they visited his New Providence, East Bank Demerara construction site and seized wage records and time sheets.
However, Shivraj late yesterday afternoon denied the allegations. “I wasn’t even there. It’s all lies,” he told Stabroek News in response to a statement issued by NIS.
NIS said it plans to institute the appropriate actions in accordance with law. The statement said it “condemns in the strongest possible terms this brazen act of intimidation and threat to its officers. The scheme calls on the authorities to deal with this matter urgently and mete out the most condign judgement on all those who were involved in and are guilty of the perpetration of this criminal act.”
In its statement, NIS explained that the inspection team, which was headed by Senior Inspector Nicholas Yearwood, and included Inspectors Regan Baxter, Carolyn Peters and Leslie Allen, who were accompanied by driver Horace Richards, “came under attack” while visiting the construction site at New Providence, East Bank Demerara. The officers, it said, were conducting routine exercises and visited the site to execute a full compliance check.
During the visit, the officers impounded for inspection three wages record and time sheets. As a result, NIS said, they were surrounded by Shivraj and several of his employees, who prevented them from leaving the property. “Mr. Shivraj and his employees held the officers hostage whilst using threats and force in demanding the return of the impounded documents which were forcefully wrenched from the hands of Inspector Regan Baxter,” it added.
The release said that the matter was later reported to the Providence Police Station.
However, Shivraj yesterday said it was the NIS inspectors who were the aggressors. According to him, the team visited his property to make checks. “You can’t take my wages book when I got to pay wages the next day,” he said, when asked if his wages book were among items seized by members of the team.
He said when he arrived at the site, accessed through Greenfield Park and located just after the Providence Stadium, he cleared the way for the team to pass. He added that he even spoke with them.
Asked if documents were wrenched from the team, Shivraj said that one of his employees saw the documents on the seat of the NIS vehicle, opened the door and picked them up. “Nothing was wrenched from them,” he insisted.
The businessman expressed surprised at the allegations, explaining that the issue was sorted out before the team left. “I don’t understand where all of this is coming from now,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Guyana Police Force is being accused of failing to act upon the report and arrest the businessman and others who were involved in the incident. When contacted, Crime Chief Seelall Persaud said he was unaware of the incident. He further said that assaults and threats are handled at the station level.
A source close to the NIS told Stabroek News yesterday that the team members were terrified as a result of the incident. The source also emphasised the failure of police to act on the report that was lodged.
“Could you imagine that the officers were at the police station for more than an hour and nothing happened?” the source said, while adding that investigators had not even visited the scene to investigate the report.
The source stressed that the inspectors were traumatised as they had been sandwiched by two heavy-duty vehicles, before men who “one could have seen was armed to their teeth under their shirts” opened the vehicle doors and took away documents. The source said that at this point the inspectors were physically assaulted by the men.
It was explained that the district inspector, who is female, was to have gone alone to the location but it was decided that the others would accompany her since the area was vast. “Could you imagine what could have happened to her if she had gone alone?” the source asked.
The source told this newspaper that usually inspectors “have to make their own way” using public transport or their own vehicles.
The visibly upset source said too the incident occurred since last Friday and yet the NIS Board had to wait until a board meeting yesterday to discuss the incident. “This is ridiculous,” the source stressed.
This newspaper was further told that the inspectors turned up at the board meeting for an audience with the board. They waited for almost three hours until the meeting had ended but were unsuccessful as they had not followed protocol, which required them to put in a request.
“This was simply an attempt to get their attention,” the source explained, while noting that this is the first incident of such magnitude in recent times.