There is evidence to show that the 15 computer systems seized from the Hope/Enmore Neighbour-hood Democratic Council (NDC) on Thursday were going to be illegally sold to a councillor, Chief Executive Officer of the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) Aubrey Heath-Retemyer said yesterday.
Heath-Retemyer told Stabroek News that the minutes of an NDC meeting held on November 16th, 2016, showed that a decision was made to sell the computers. According to him, the minutes were signed by the Chairman of the NDC on December 21st, 2016.
He denied the opposition PPP/C’s claim that the computers were in use and he said that an investigation will be launched to ascertain who authorised the sale.
“We need to find that out who gave the authority to sell government stuff,” he said, while noting that evidence points to plans to sell the computers to a councillor who operates an internet café.
A statement issued yesterday by the Ministry of Public Telecommunications also said that upon learning of the impending sale, officials from the eGovernment Project Execution Unit, which has oversight of government’s ICT assets, responded to prevent the sale.
The ministry noted that the computers were donated by the Basic Needs Trust Fund for use by residents of the community and, therefore, they could not be sold.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the NDC Mark Mahase yesterday condemned the seizure of the computers and said it was disrespectful. “As Chairman of the NDC, no information nah come to me concerning anything or SARU. None. It was an invasion. Story done,” Mahase said, while pointing out that it was unprofessional for SARU and the eGovernance Unit to pounce on the NDC without him, the chairman, being alerted.
“Even if you come to check the computers, please inform the Chairman that we are coming to check,” he added.
‘Putting things in place’
Additionally, NDC Vice-Chairman Mohammed Dawud told this newspaper that the council was “putting things in place” to use the computers, which he acknowledged had not been used for a lengthy period. He stated that the NDC received several applications from persons in the community to use the systems but disturbances at the council’s meetings have seen the discussions postponed.
The PPP/C, in a statement released hours after the seizure, had said that around 2pm, a group of men, who identified themselves as officials from SARU, entered the NDC’s office in the company of Deochan Singh, an APNU+AFC councillor, and removed the desktop computers and eight backup power-packs “without the permission of the NDC or the Community Resource Centre.”
It said the equipment is owned by the Community Resource Centre, a non-governmental organisation established by the residents of Enmore and which uses the equipment to hold classes in the upper flat of the NDC building for young people of the community.
However, Heath-Retemyer maintained that a policeman accompanied SARU and eGovernment Unit officials to the location. He also said that those in the building were told of the reason for the visit and the computers were handed over.
He stressed that the claim that the computers were in use was untrue. He pointed out that the computers were kept in a filthy room filled with rat faeces, cobweb and dust. He also suggested that this newspaper visit the E-Governance office, where information could be accessed on when the computers were last used.
The ministry statement also noted that there was “absolutely no evidence” that the computers were used recently despite the PPP/C’s claim and that they were in a state of disrepair and improperly stored in dusty conditions.
It said too that the computers will be returned to the community once it has been agreed that they would not be sold or disposed of. “eGovernment fully intends to support the residents of Enmore/Hope under its community ICT hub initiative which provides free internet service and computer skills training,” it added.
The PPP statement had also said that when the acting chairman of the NDC attempted to intervene, he was assaulted and a report of the incident was made to the Enmore Police Outpost.
“The PPP views this incident as another flagrant abuse of authority and another extreme authoritarian initiative of this Government, again using SARU, as a weapon against innocent citizens and their private property. Currently, SARU has absolutely no law enforcement powers,” it had said, while noting that State Assets Recovery Agency Bill has not been enacted. “One can only imagine the illegal rampages which will take place when this Bill assumes the force of law,” the statement said, while adding that the party was calling on the Commissioner of Police to launch a full investigation into the matter.
“The Enmore NDC and the Community Resource Centre has also been advised to launch civil proceedings against the State claiming monetary compensation for trespass, constitutional violations and deprivation of private property,” it said.