DPP strikes out second set of charges against ministers

As expected, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has struck out private criminal charges which were brought earlier this week by PPP/C MPs against Finance Minister Winston Jordan,  Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson and Public Service Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine.

In a statement yesterday, the Chambers of the DPP said that the private criminal charges were discontinued by the DPP under Article 187 (1)  (c)  of the constitution. This is the same section she had cited in nullifying earlier charges by the PPP/C MPs Juan Edghill and Vickram Bharrat against Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence and Minister of Social Cohesion Dr George Norton.

As she had done in relation to the earlier charges, the DPP said that “these charges concern a grave issue under the criminal law in relation to two serving ministers. In the interest of good governance in the State of Guyana such allegations ought first to have been reported to the Guyana Police Force for an investigation to be launched and the advice of the DPP sought”.

The DPP’s discontinuing of the first set of charges had earned opprobrium from the PPP which accused her of succumbing to pressure from the government. The first set of charges had come a week after the state filed charges against former Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh and the former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited Winston Brassington for misconduct in public office. Former Attorney General  Anil Nandlall who filed both sets of charges against the ministers had asked the DPP for a review of the ones brought against Singh and Brassington. However, those charge still stand.

The charge against Jordan and Patterson had stated that between December 14th, 2016 and March 31st, 2017 in Georgetown, without reasonable excuse or justification, they “willfully misconducted themselves in a way which amounted to the abuse of public trust” by paying or authorising to be paid the sum of $906,000,000, being public funds, to Homestretch Development Incorporated (HDI) and contractually engaging it for and on behalf of the government for the property, D’Urban Jubilee Park, without any form of procurement process as prescribed by law.

The charge against Roopnaraine stated that while performing the duties of Minister of Education between December 14th, 2016 and March 31st, 2017 in Georgetown, he “willfully misconducted himself in a way which amounted to abuse of public trust without reasonable excuse or justification by acting as Director of Homestretch Development Incorporated,” a private limited liability company which received from the Ministry of Finance $906,000,000 being public funds for works purportedly done to and at a facility styled D’Urban Jubilee Park, without any form of procurement process as prescribed by law.

PPP/C Member of Parliament Juan Edghill, who served as the complainant in both matters that were filed, stated on the day that the charges were filed that the issue of D’Urban Park’s funding has been in the public notice since the opposition has complained and written to the Public Procurement Commission about it.

“When the President announced that the project was being handed over to the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, he [said] $150 million from the Contingencies Fund would be made available. When they came in the supplementary paper, it amounted to $406 million. After we would have approved that $406 million by majority vote in the National Assembly, we discovered that another $500 million was budgeted for on the particular line item in terms of capital works for Public Infrastructure. When we questioned that $500 million and what it is going for, we discovered that the minister said it is being transferred to Homestretch Development Inc for the payment of contractors for the D’Urban Park project. There is no evidence whatsoever that those contractors engaged in competitive bidding, we don’t know that the prices that are quoted are actually market-driven prices because they didn’t come as a result of competitive bidding following the procurement process and we don’t know that taxpayers’ money was spent in the best way and how could you take taxpayers money and fund a private company that went into a procurement process that was contrary to our procurement laws. Who benefitted and how much they benefitted would be a matter to be discussed at a later stage,” he further stated.

The Auditor General is currently conducting a special audit of the D’Urban Park project, the spending for which has exceeded $1 billion.

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