OAS committee lays out suggestions to fortify DPP in corruption fight

The Organisation of American States (OAS) committee which analysed Guyana’s fight against corruption has made a series of proposals for bolstering the DPP’s office including strengthening the ability of officers to prosecute fraud.

During a visit to Guyana in October last year, the committee which monitors the progress of member countries in implementing the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, met DPP Head Shalimar Ali-Hack and other oversight bodies.

In its report presented in Washington last week, the Committee after considering the input of the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that Guyana should continue  bringing Police Prosecutors into and under the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The committee said it should also be  ensured that police prosecutors consult with the DPP when dealing with corruption cases.

During the meeting with the DPP, the committee had noted that police prosecutors who are generally not lawyers were responsible for the prosecution of the majority of crimes including corruption and fraud. This has been a weakness which has been pointed by local analysts repeatedly. The DPP then replied that she was gradually bringing police prosecutors under her office and that three had been placed on a full-time basis at the DPP’s Chambers.

The OAS committee, formally known as the Mechanism for follow-up on the implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, said Guyana should shore up  the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions by ensuring that it has the requisite human and financial resources it needs for the proper execution of its functions.

It also wants to fortify the skills and ability of officers in the Office of the DPP to prosecute fraud and corruption cases and to offer timely legal advice on the investigations of such cases done by the Audit Office, the Guyana Police Force and any other bodies. It said this could be accomplished via broader training opportunities to staff members of the DPP, particularly training on the prosecution of acts of corruption and related international cooperation.

The committee, which had made recommendations in recent years which have not all been implemented by Guyana,  also wants to implement formal coordination mechanisms between the Guyana Police and the Office of the DPP to establish settled procedures for investigations related to acts of corruption  so that earlier collaboration can be established and legal advice provided before a charge is preferred.

It also advised that Guyana mull establishing the legal obligation for the Director of Public Prosecutions to prepare and publish annual reports for the DPP disclosing its activities and the results achieved during the period.

The committee also wants the website of the Director of Public Prose-cutions continuously updated and for the annual reports, legislation and other relevant information to be  published in a timely manner and that the corresponding web links are working. Non-functioning or barely operating websites at oversight bodies were pointed out frequently in the report by the OAS committee.

The committee also wants much more information from the DPP on investigations.

It called for the DPP to “Maintain and publicize results indicating the total number of investigations; the number of investigations that remain ongoing; the number of investigations that have been suspended for whatever reason; the number of investigations that have been shelved due to statute of limitations; the number of investigations that have been shelved without a decision being reached on the merits in the case under investigation; the number of investigations that are at a stage that allows a decision to be reached on the merits of the case under investigation; and the number of investigations that have been referred to the competent body in order for such a decision to be taken, in order to identify challenges and recommend corrective measures for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Guyana Police Force. This information should be broken down by the specific acts of corruption provided for in the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, including, but not limited to, active and passive bribery and fraud against the State”.

The Chambers of the  DPP should also set up an articulated anti-corruption strategy, which could include the setting up of specialized anti-corruption units in the police force and the DPP.

Maintaining and publicizing results on the total number of cases probed and were ready for decision was also proposed.

The OAS committee cited other information that should be carried:  “the number of decisions adopted in connection with them; the number of those decisions in which responsibility was established or penalties were imposed; the number of those decisions in which no responsibility was found or acquittals were given; and the number of those decisions involving the extinction of the punishment or responsibility because of the triggering of the statute of limitations, in order to identify challenges and recommend corrective measures for the judicial branch. This information should be broken down on the specific acts of corruption provided for in the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, including, but not limited to, active and passive bribery and fraud against the State”.

In the report, the Committee said that Guyana had adverted to challenges the country faced in prosecuting fraud and corruption trials. Guyana cited the following three cases and their problems.

“The first case was the discovery through an informant that approx $ 33 M GY had been embezzled from one of the regional hospitals in 2013 (the actual investigation reveals that figure is approx $ 43 M GY) during the investigation the persons who were suspected of being involved all escaped from Guyana. They were charged in absentia. At this stage the Government has sought assistance from neighbouring countries under the Convention on Mutual Assistance on Criminal Matters.

The second case refers to a fraud in the Pension Scheme (public servants) of the Ministry of Finance which was uncovered with help of public officers of over $ 20 M GY. This case did lead to persons being charged but a number of persons cannot be found and one of the accused, since the case has not been called up, continues to go to work and intimidate the staff.

The third case is known as the Fidelity/Customs scandal. Following information received a special audit was conducted by the Audit Office of Guyana in 2009. The Customs Officers implicated in the Fidelity matter were charged with Conspiracy to Commit a Felony to wit knowingly concerned with the Fraudulent evasion of import duties of customs. Sixteen (16) persons were charged on 2009-04-28, and the matter was discharged on 2011-05-31 by the Magistrate for insufficient evidence.”

Guyana had told the committee that the issue was not that public officers were not reporting but the weakness lay in the alacrity with which the investigations are conducted and the time lag between when the charges are preferred and the matter is started in the court and completed in a timely manner.

The 100-page report recommended that Guyana set up more anti-corruption units and address the debarment of contractors who had not performed in relation to public contracts.

The lead expert to the committee for Guyana was presidential advisor on governance Gail Teixeira.

 

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