Government is awaiting advice on the feasibility of setting up a Special Prosecutors’ Office to handle high-profile cases but opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira has voiced concern about the move, saying that it will be yet “another attempt to witch-hunt political opponents.”
Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman made the announcement of the possible establishment of the office during a post-Cabinet press briefing on Thursday. He was at the time responding to a question about the idea of appointing a special prosecutor to handle the matters involving former Public Service Minister Jennifer Westford.
“Government has no intention of going after any one person, in particular, or set of persons, but the idea of a special prosecutor [had] been mooted several months ago,” he said.
Trotman said he believed that the ministers of Legal Affairs and Public Security have been tasked to advise Cabinet on the feasibility of such an office “because it may require the services of more than one special counsel, so to speak, for some of these matters. So it is not that we are going to appoint a special prosecutor in the case of police versus Westford for example.”
He said that doing so in specific cases “would be tantamount to witch hunting. We would prefer to have a more studied report, so that for these cases which are of course of public interest and concern, we have a strong prosecuting team to preside over them.”
He said he is hopeful that the update from the ministers could be received within another fortnight.
Later, while addressing government’s response to several forensic audits, he added, “I believe we at Cabinet were overwhelmed not just by the number but by the very scale of the findings and that brings us back to a point made earlier, a question about special prosecutors, because the police force, SOCU [Special Organised Crime Unit] and even the DPP’s chambers in a sense are just overwhelmed and lack certain capacities to address all of these.”
Hours later, Teixeira issued a response in which she said that the establishment of such an office “is reflective of a pattern of actions by the APNU+AFC government which consistently undermines the rule of law.”
She explained that the Constitution, by Article 187, confers the powers of prosecution in criminal proceedings on the constitutional office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). “This new action is a departure from the existing functional and professional system of prosecutions. The proposal to create a Special Prosecutions Unit cannot be seen as anything else but further institutionalisation of another attempt to witch-hunt political opponents,” she said.
Teixeira added that were the government to go through the “DPP and the Guyana Police Force, both professional bodies, governed by the Constitution and statute, they would be expected to abide by a level of professionalism and follow specific guidelines and act based on evidence.”
She said that the coalition government clearly appears to have no faith in these bodies. This new unit, she charged, “is intended to bypass these bodies and create a separate and parallel prosecutions arm supported by the [State Assets Recovery Unit] and SOCU under the total control of the political elite in the Ministry of the Presidency. The rationale for such a radical departure from the existing constitutional and legal provisions can only by interpreted as one designed to target and witch hunt the parliamentary opposition and political opponents.”
The statement noted that Trotman’s announcement follows ominously on a statement by Minister within the Ministry of Finance Jaipaul Sharma that Cabinet will be deciding on who will be charged with criminal offences based on the forensic audits. The same audits which were carried out by “select political supporters of the APNU AFC government,” Teixeira said.
She said that as stated in other warnings by the parliamentary opposition, the government has put Guyana on a slippery and dangerous slope, undermining the rule of law and the eroding the separation of the powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.