Attorney-General Basil Williams SC yesterday said government expects Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack to review the “political” private charges brought by opposition members against ministers Volda Lawrence and Dr. George Norton, while warning that to tolerate an abuse of the court process could open the floodgates for more.
“It is an aberration to the rule of law, an insult to good governance and an abuse of the process of the court to allow such unsubstantiated recourse to our justice system based solely on malice, whim and caprice and no evidence of criminality on the part of the Ministers, Ms. Volda Lawrence and Dr. George Norton, contended by the investigatory and prosecutorial agencies of the State,” Williams told a press conference in the boardroom of the Attorney General’s Chambers, where he read from a prepared statement.
“To countenance partisan, political, private criminal charges coming out of Freedom House is a recipe for returning Guyana to the status of a failed narco-state as it was under presidents [Bharrat] Jagdeo and [Donald] Ramotar,” he added.
PPP/C Members of Parliament Juan Edghill and Vickram Bharrat on Thursday brought the private criminal charges against Public Health Minister Lawrence and Social Cohesion Minister Norton for alleged misconduct and abuse of public trust.
Government has since asserted that the charges were filed in retaliation for the charges that were filed in the previous week against former Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and former Chief Executive Officer of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited Winston Brassington, who were charged in absentia with three counts of misconduct in public office over land deals under the Jagdeo administration.
Williams took the same position yesterday and argued that there is no comparison between the cases as the DPP charged Singh and Brassington herself after due deliberation, while the private charges by Edghill and Bharrat were “uninformed” by such examination.
He added that it was fortunate that the Constitution has established the independent office of the DPP, who has power over all prosecutions, whether initiated or undertaken by her or some other authority.
He noted that the DPP can discontinue the charges, if she so desires, or take them over and continue them.
“In other words the Office of the DPP is invested with powers of quality control over all prosecutions in Guyana and has a proactive duty to patrol the Corridors of Justice to ensure her domain is not polluted by jaundiced interlopers,” he said.
While pointing out that the attorney for Singh and Brassington, Anil Nandlall, has requested that the DPP reconsider the charges against them, Williams also said the government “would expect no lesser treatment for the charges she did not institute, lest the floodgates open to create a festival of private criminal charges, even against the Leader of the Opposition.”
The charge against Lawrence stems from the contentious procurement of over $600 million in drugs and medical supplies from Trinidadian company ANSA McAL, while the charge against Norton relates to the controversial rental of a property at Sussex Street for the storage of drugs and medical supplies while he was Public Health Minister.
The charges were not read in court as neither minister was present to answer. Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan, however, issued summons for both ministers, who are expected to appear in court on April 24th.
After the filing of the charges, Opposition Leader Jagdeo said that it was just the beginning.
“This is not the end, so we are not stopping at these charges. There are several others who would be charged,” he told a press conference, while maintaining that the action was not in retaliation for the move to prosecute Singh and Brassington.