Head of the Customs Anti-Narcotic Agency (CANU) James Singh was yesterday officially notified of his removal from that past which has resulted from recommendations made by President David Granger as well as a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) recently conducted into the unit’s role in the interception and subsequent release of a cocaine-laden vessel.
It was Minister of State Joseph Harmon who hinted at a post-cabinet press briefing yesterday that it was recommended that Singh be removed and that this was indicated to the Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan who is the subject minister.
Singh when contacted yesterday told Stabroek News that he was informed of his removal by Ramjattan. However when approached in the corridors of Parliament Buildings later in the day, Ramjattan declined to comment.
“No I would not”, he said when asked by Stabroek News to comment.
Last night, Ramjattan issued the following statement:
“As the Minister of Public Security who has responsibility for the Customs Anti-Narcotics unit (CANU), I have directed that Mr. James Singh, head of CANU, should proceed on the remainder of his accumulated leave whereupon he would be given notice of his termination of employ. All benefits consequent thereupon would also be granted to him.
“The recent Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr. Bruce Lovell has made a number of recommendations, one of which is the restructuring of the Unit. The decision also was taken that this Unit will come under the soon to be established National Anti-Narcotics Authority (NANA).
“In a scenario where very complex and difficult decisions have to be made, there is need for some amount of reconfiguration and restructuring.
“Mr. Singh has been at the Unit for nine years, and I hope to engage him on alternative placement options. I have thanked him for his leadership and all the support he has given to the Unit”.
Harmon told reporters during the press briefing that President Granger had made some recommendations on the report and these were sent to Ramjattan for action to be taken by him.
“I would not want to basically play the hand of the minister but the minister has been given some clear guidance as to what should be done and I believe that he is taking action in that regard”, he said.
Harmon was responding to queries as to whether the President has seen a copy of the CoI report and whether he was now prepared to give details on the recommendations it contains.
Asked if any of that “guidance” pertains to Singh being removed, Harmon replied “that would be one of the guidance”.
On February 16th, four Guyanese men were intercepted by members of the US and Trinidad and Tobago coastguards in a boat in international waters, about 70 nautical miles north of Suriname, with over four tonnes of cocaine, estimated at a street value of over US$71.7M aboard the vessel.
After the bust was made public, Singh had told Stabroek News that the vessel was last in Guyana in 2013. Singh was subsequently asked to proceed on accumulated leave and on March 31st, a Commission of Inquiry was set up to inquire into the circumstances surrounding the entry into, the interception, detention and subsequent release of an unnamed private maritime vessel in the sea space of the territory of Guyana. Its terms of reference included looking at the instructions issued to the Guyana Defence Force Coast Guard, CANU and the role of any foreign law enforcement agencies in the conduct of the operation to intercept, detain and search the said vessel, and if the operation to intercept, detain and search the said vessel was approved by any superior authority in Guyana.
The government had said then that there was no link between Singh being asked to proceed on accumulated leave and the probe. As of yesterday he was still on leave.
One week ago when the issue was raised, Harmon had refused to comment on Singh’s future saying that once the President reads the report the press would be told about the recommendations made.
Moments earlier he had revealed that the CoI looked at personnel, the passage of information and several issues which affect the way the country deals with counter-narcotics operations. “I believe already while the recommendations have not all been acknowledged and acted upon, that some of these things have already started to take hold and you would recognise the increased levels of detection of narcotic operations in Guyana, seizures in Guyana based on good intelligence and follow up to that intelligence work. We no longer just hearing that drugs left Guyana and was found somewhere else,” he said.
Harmon had added that when the next United States State Department report on drug trafficking comes out next year, “they will have clearly defined actions which were taken by this government. I want to say that the last report which was produced by the US State Department is a very positive report about Guyana. They said that the government is not involved in any way in these corrupt practices as it relates to narcotics…they have also identified that we need to take some other steps in other areas, which we have already started taking so that the report would have already been overtaken by events which are taking place now with the establishment of the National Anti-Narcotics Agency.”
With regards to personnel, he said, “there is definitely going to be some adjustments, some changes in the fight-against-narcotics architecture. There is going to be some changes and the report, I believe, is pointing in that direction.”
Singh when contacted by Stabroek News explained that at this time he did not wish to expand on the matter and referred to the government for the answers being sought. “At this time anything being said would have to be from the government,” Singh stated.
This newspaper was informed that sometime last year government renewed Singh’s contract for an additional five years. Singh took office in October 2008.
Meanwhile, former President Donald Ramotar yesterday made a case for Singh defending him on his performance during his three-year tenure as President.
“I am very surprised that Mr James Singh was removed. The three years I worked with Mr. Singh he displayed complete professionalism and through his efforts we had a lot of international co-operation in our fight against drugs, including the (US) DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency). In all my interaction with the DEA, and I would have been the person that pushed their presence here, they held James in very high esteem. They assured me that the work of CANU, under James Singh, they were able to stop a lot of drugs from entering the United States and were able to build a lot of cases over there,” Ramotar said.
“Unfortunately, it seems this government does not respect professionalism and hard work and what is more important is loyalty to the party. Drug trafficking is a serious matter and should not ever be used as a political tool, ever,” he added.
Ramotar questioned whether the CoI sought evidence from the DEA here regarding the matter being investigated as he believed that it would have maybe made a difference in the investigations. “I also would like to know if the CoI asked the DEA to give any kind of evidence or input in relation to this act being investigated or of James Singh’s activity as a whole…maybe it would have made a difference in the recommendations made,” he said.
The former President said that he would like to hear Singh’s versions of events. “It would be good to have James Singh’s expert side of the story because I have always come to trust his judgement in making anti-narco decisions,” Ramotar asserted.
Brigadier (Retired) Bruce Lovell headed the CoI, with former Assistant Commissioner of Police Winston Cosbert and Christine Bailey serving as commissioners. The CoI was not open to the public and the final report was handed over to Harmon two weeks ago.