AG should persuade government to get international firm to trace the assets – if any – of former and current officials

Dear Editor,

Attorney General Basil Williams and his surrogates seem to be staring at the sky, while the pretence that ‘all is well’ continues.

Truly, “anti-corruption is everybody’s business”, as stated by Mr Williams, at an Anti-Corruption Sensitisation Seminar at the Anna Regina Multilateral School Auditorium, Cotton Field Village, Essequibo Coast, as reported by government’s Department of Information.

If the government is serious about fighting corruption, why not set up the Integrity Commission, in keeping with the Integrity Commission Act, as promised?  The reason for this call being that Ministers of the APNU+AFC government – who have not made declarations since assuming office, and some not doing so even while they sat in the opposition benches during the 8th, 9th and 10th Parliaments – are facilitating corruption currently, by disallowing declarations by other public officers.

A case in point is the fact that the Procurement Act of 2003 mandates that the members of tender boards – national, regional and district – as well as evaluators on panels who recommend and award contracts need to be making annual declarations to the Integrity Commission. Since there is no Integrity Commission, no declarations are made, leaving the country in the dark as it relates to who, if any, of these persons are benefiting financially or are benefiting in other material forms from the award of contracts. There can be no tracing of the accumulation of illicit wealth, if and where such cases exist, in the public service. How then can the Attorney General substantiate his comments about building an ‘unbribable’ public service? Between 2015 and 2017, more than $300 billion has been spent on goods and services, as well as capital projects, without this critical ‘anti-corruption’ framework being in place.

The rhetoric of APNU+AFC about fighting corruption will ring hollow until concrete actions are taken to follow the laws and regulations set out to minimise the risk of corrupt actions going undetected.

Secondly, the role of the heavily politicized State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), which now falls under the supervision of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, continues to be used as a tool to target political opponents of the current APNU+AFC government.

The Guyanese people cannot take the SARU CEO, Aubrey Heath-Retemyer, seriously, when he states that “procurement fraud – fraud relating to purchase of goods, services, or commissioning of construction projects” – is a major form of corruption,” given the unit’s inaction on the matter.

Why is SARU not pursuing questionable undertakings, including but not limited to D’Urban Park; the $14 million being spent on the Sussex Street drug bond; the $605 million purchase of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies; the procurement of goods and services at the Guyana Elections Commission (Gecom); and the countless other projects that fall under the purview of Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson, as well as the other capital projects in various sectors, where tampering with and influencing of the tender process, to ensure a desired outcome, have been exposed.

With no such action, and in light of documented evidence, one can only conclude that the APNU+AFC government is guilty of procurement fraud.

The procurement of services, which includes the hiring of public servants in key and critical positions to enhance the governance framework, ought not to be undermined. Yet the undermining of the process to procure services has been tainted by several allegations involving the Attorney General, including at the Deeds Registry and his own Chambers.

In the words of the CEO of SARU – a unit Mr Williams continues to champion – such actions “undermine democracy and the rule of law and lead to violations of human rights.”

What about the unconstitutional and illegal interference and instructions to constitutional bodies, such as the Police and Public Service Commissions?

Mr Williams is also being called on to attempt to persuade his government to pursue the engagement of an international firm to trace the assets, if any, of former and current government officials being held abroad, particularly to once and for all put to rest the allegations about corruption under the former PPP/C government, which Mr Williams and his journeymen are wont to repeat.

Maybe the Attorney General, as the principal legal advisor to the President, the government and the cabinet, in the interest of transparency, should also advise the President to host a press conference, where the questions of the people could be addressed and clarity on a number of issues can be provided.

The APNU+AFC must stop hiding behind choreographed media encounters, stage-managed public appearances and replace the rhetoric with substantial deliverables, following their promise of transparency and accountability.

Yours faithfully,

Juan Edghill, MP

PPP/C  

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