Delayed SOCU protocols for release by month end

- Ramjattan

Pressing matters, including the unrest at the Georgetown Prison, have delayed the finalisation and release of the protocols for the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), according to Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan.

“We are going to definitely get this thing through by the end of the month,” Ramjattan said recently in an invited comment to Stabroek News.

He explained that there will be a meeting soon to look at the six-page draft protocols.

“We are supposed to meet with the national security [committee] to fine tune it,” he said, while noting that “other very important matters” are the reason for the delay. It was while addressing the National Assembly in February, during the debate of the 2016 National Budget, that he informed of the existence of the draft protocols.

Ramjattan explained to the House that the unit, which was created in 2013 under the previous administration, never had operational protocols and steps had since been taken to bring their operations in line with the Standard Operating Procedures of the Guyana Police Force.

“The protocols have been already drafted. That was not done under Mr Rohee’s administration. I have now done that and it’s about six pages of protocols as to how they are going to do their operations and those are going to be made public and you will see them. It will ensure that they come in line with what is the police Standing Operating Procedures,” Ramjattan said.

Questions were raised as to the rules governing the unit, which is an integral part of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing (AML/CFT) of terrorism framework, following a bungled surveillance operation last December, which resulted in the deaths of army intelligence officer Robert Pyle, his wife Stacy Pyle and truck driver Linden Eastman.

Their deaths occurred after Pyle collided with Eastman as he was pursuing a vehicle transporting Alana Seebarran, wife of PPP/C MP Charles Ramson Jnr, along Carifesta Avenue. It was later revealed that Pyle was pursuing the wrong target and eyebrows were later raised as to how an army official was allowed to be part of such an operation.

Who’s giving directives?

Former attorney general Anil Nandlall said the delay in the release of the protocols is vexing to him, particularly given that he had worked hard to ensure that the unit was set up.

Nandlall told Stabroek News that the release of the protocols is another promise yet to be delivered by the administration over the past few months.

He said that this particular issue is of peculiar importance for several reasons. He explained that SOCU continues to operate as a “law enforcement agency under the umbrella of the Ministry of the Presidency, the premiere executive arm of the state. That alone raises a whole host of issues regarding the agenda of this agency.”

He questioned from whom is it receiving directions. “It remains a unit within the Guyana Police Force, a statutory body which ought to be autonomous with a statutory mandate which [it] must execute without political interference. Is this body receiving direction from the Commissioner of Police or the Ministry of the Presidency?” he questioned.

He said that from all indications SOCU continues to operate in a manner that violates the constitutional rights of the citizen. “It continues to search people’s homes upon the flimsiest of suspicion, it continues to detain people’s property without good reason and it continues to function outside of its original remit,” he stressed.

Nandlall, who is also a PPP/C MP, said that he has already outlined that the original remit of the unit was to receive information from the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) and to carry out investigations upon the request of the FIU and to transmit its findings back to the FIU for the FIU to determine what further steps, if any, would be taken. “It is a fact of public notoriety that there is no FIU in existence and the government seems inexplicably comfortable with this void in our AML/CFT architecture because it is not pursuing the appointment of an FIU with the urgency that it deserves but yet you have the SOCU operating,” he added.

“So on whose direction are they operating? To whom are they giving their findings? Upon whose instructions are they instituting charges? Because the apparatus of which they are a part of is headless. It would seem that SOCU is orbiting in its own space,” he said.

Asked what the parliamentary opposition can do to push for the release of the protocols, Nandlall, in response, said that the PPP/C has been and will continue to expose the deficiencies he has outlined at every level. “We have raised it with parliament, we have raised it at press conferences and we have raised it with the international community,” he said.

Nandlall informed that the issue may be raised with international regulatory agencies, such as FATF and CFATF.

“The reason why we have not resorted to that extremity is because unlike the government when they were in the opposition, we will never adopt positions and take postures that will be inimical to Guyana’s best interests. But the unfortunate reality is while they were in opposition and had a one seat majority in the parliament, they exposed Guyana to harm and they are absolutely responsible for the position that we are in and now in government, with a majority in the parliament, they seem incapable to extricate us from the problems they have put us in,” he said.

Nandlall pointed out that what is significant is that while government was in opposition and controlled the 10th Parliament, its MPs voted down bills that the then PPP government had brought to make Guyana legally compliant with FATF standards. Notwithstanding that, he said, as a government, the PPP was able to do that which was necessary to comply with the administrative requirements. “Now that they are in government, we are both legislatively and administratively non-compliant because of the absence of an FIU,” he stressed.

Vex

Nandlall stressed that the entire situation with SOCU has vexed him. “It ain’t must vex me when I was the one who set up SOCU. All the work I did,” he said.

He said that the establishment of the unit was the last administrative requirement that Guyana had to comply with. He said that there was a tripartite effort which ensured that SOCU was established.

According to Nandlall, the then government also established the National Task Force, which was another requirement under AML/CFT. This organisation, he said, was comprised of Ministry of Legal Affairs, Ministry of Finance, the then Office of the President, GRA, Central Bank, Guyana Police Force, CANU and other important agencies whose input are fundamental to the battle against money laundering and terrorism.

“Since we left office, the public has not heard a word about this task force. The government should answer whether it is existing, has been disbanded or dormant because it is also part of the administrative requirement which we are to satisfy,” he said. “You have an AG who does not take the time and effort to acquaint himself with these requirements but he believes he knows it all and, therefore, would not ask for guidance,” he added.

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