Just last week, I examined the causal connection between taxation and fear and economic decline in the context of the Guyanese economy. In so doing, I made reference to the operations of the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) and the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU). I also made reference to a tax which the Georgetown Mayor and City Council intends to levy on containers. These three issues have dominated the news over the past week. As a result, I feel compelled to continue the discourse.
Readers will recall that as one of the persons engaged in the establishment of SOCU, I had cause on several previous occasions to explain its genesis, nature, and functions as originally conceived. It is worth repeating. SOCU is supposed to be part of Guyana’s AML/CFT apparatus, staffed with an elite and well-trained grouping of personnel, including investigators, accountants, financial analysts, auditors, attorneys at law, and persons with like expertise in relevant fields, to whom the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) will transmit information, data and other evidentiary materials for their analysis, examination, and investigation with a view to institute criminal charges in respect of offences created by Guyana’s AML/CFT laws.
Necessarily, for such a unit to function competently and effectively, its staff must be endowed with, inter alia, powers of arrest, search and seizures. This unit was intended to have its own legal framework regulating its operations and empowering it to discharge its functions. However, the PPP/C administration did not have a majority in the National Assembly at the time. During this same period, the joint opposition had already demonstrated its reluctance to support the AML/CFT Bills of 2012 and 2013. To take another Bill to the National Assembly of a kindred nature, obviously would have presented them with another opportunity to kick it around like a political football, as they did with the other two Bills to which I have made reference. In those circumstances, we were forced to use existing laws to authorize SOCU to lawfully function.
The solution was to situate SOCU within the Guyana Police Force and swear in its staff as police officers, thereby, conferring them with the powers conferred by the Police Act. It was contemplated that whilst this unit would have its own head, it would operate in accordance with the Police Act, Regulations and accompanying Standing Orders. Therefore, this unit necessarily falls under the superintendence of the Commissioner of Police. Significantly, as part of the police force, it is insulated from the political directorate and only the subject minister can offer directions, but only on policy matters and nothing else. In short, no politician can direct it on operational matters.
When we left government, this unit was merely in its embryonic stages. Under this government, this unit has evolved into something radically and fundamentally different. It is public knowledge that it is not answerable to and takes no directions from the Commissioner of Police; it is housed in the Ministry of the Presidency and funded from the budget of that ministry; it engages in operational matters and conducts investigations into matters wholly unrelated to the FIU, money laundering, or terrorism. Indeed there is no FIU in place from which it can get instructions or functional directions; and recently, we have now learned that it is investigating leaders of the People’s Progressive Party, former ministers of the PPP/C government, members of parliament of the PPP/C, and friends and supporters of the PPP/C.
I have read and heard denials emanating from the government and from SOCU itself, contending that it has no political agenda. But I have seen a letter signed by Sydney James, requesting from a state agency information regarding the property ownership of a list of persons fitting the above-mentioned description. There is no FIU in place. The Police Commissioner did not compile this list. So whence did this list originate? My information is that it came from the Ministry of the Presidency and that similar requests were made of commercial banks requesting confidential financial information regarding these persons’ bank accounts. None of these persons have been informed that they are being investigated. None of them has been informed for what they are being investigated. None of these persons have been informed that they are suspects in any investigation. So from all indications this list was compiled to target the People’s Progressive Party. This is nothing but political witch-hunting.
As for the information that is being requested, this information is submitted annually to the Integrity Commission and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) in accordance with the law. In fact it is the joint opposition which over the last fifteen years has repeatedly refused to make such disclosures to the Integrity Commission as its members are mandated to do by law and despite dozens of calls for them to do so by the PPP/C while in government. Earlier this year, they refused to support a motion in the National Assembly, piloted by us in the opposition, calling upon all members of parliament to publicly disclose their assets and sources of income over the last ten years. Yet, their names are not on the SOCU’s list.
My information is that SARU is the intellectual author of this infamous list. SARU continues to be a legal bastard. It has no legal powers to conduct any type of investigation. Its head, Dr Clive Thomas, is clueless in respect of how investigations are to be lawfully conducted. From all his public utterances, it is clear that he comes to conclusions first and then he investigates. His overt and discernible dislike for the PPP by itself disqualifies him from investigating. It is reported in the press that he told the Parliament Committee that SARU is a department within the Ministry of the Presidency (MOP). The Professor obviously does not recognize that this fact alone renders SARU incapable of conducting any lawful investigation into the affairs of a citizen, more so one who is a political opponent of the President. He blissfully explains that SARU will soon migrate from the MOP, as if that will change anything. He and that unit are a group of politicians and are already tarnished, and will never be viewed as being capable of doing any objective investigating work. It is clear therefore that SOCU and SARU are two groups wielding a political hatchet but masquerading as law enforcement agencies. Their actions will not only be legally challenged all the way to the highest court in the land, but their political machinations will be exposed at the highest forum in the international community.
This authoritarian virus which has infected the apex of the executive, the Ministry of the Presidency, has also spread right across central government, and is now wreaking havoc at the level of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council. It is painfully obvious that consultation, discussions and natural justice are not part of the standard operational procedures of the council. In less than a year, they have removed the pavement vendors; they are hell bent on implementing parking meters in the city; they have imposed a $25,000 tax on containers which the court has found to be unlawful; they have now moved to impose this tax at the wharves. In all of this, there has been not a word of consultation either with the business community, the labour movement, the religious organizations, or the citizens. From all indications most of these matters have not even been discussed at the level of the council itself. In the end, what is clear is that democracy is on its way out. As Dr Cheddi Jagan used to say, “There will be no social and economic progress without democracy”. The working people will bear the brunt of the poverty and the underdevelopment which are bound to ensue.
Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP