Transparency group urges legal challenge to striking out of misconduct charges against ministers

The controversial bond

Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI) has urged that the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack to strike out two sets of private criminal charges brought by PPP/C Members of Parliament (MPs) against sitting ministers be challenged in court and that the complaints that formed the basis for the actions be submitted to the police. 

“TIGI agrees that the proper procedures must be followed in all legal matters. However, there are unanswered questions about the path taken by the DPP to disallow the charges against current ministers of Government,” TIGI said in a statement issued yesterday.

The DPP’s Chambers on April 23rd and April 26th announced the discontinuation of the charges, which were filed by former attorney-general Anil Nandlall. The first set of charges were filed on behalf of PPP/C MPs Juan Edghill and Vickram Bharrat against Ministers Volda Lawrence and George Norton for Misconduct in Public Office Contrary to Common Law, a week after the state charged former Minister of Finance Dr Ashni Singh and the former Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited Winston Brassington with the same offence. The charges, which concerned the procurement of over $600 million in pharmaceuticals and the rental of the controversial Sussex Street drug bond, were discontinued one day before the two ministers were scheduled to make their first appearance at the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court. These charges were the first set of charges to come.

The second set of charges were brought against Finance Minister Winston Jordan, Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson and Public Service Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine and they related to the funds spent on D’Urban Park.

The DPP Chambers said that the discontinuation of the charges was in keeping with Article 187 (1) of the Constitution. “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,” statements from the Chambers had said.

Grave issue

TIGI, in its statement, reminded that the DPP had said that the 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 body noted that Nandlall in response to this particular aspect of the Chambers’ statement had indicated that there is no law requiring the steps identified by the DPP. “We [TIGI] have also been unable to verify that such provisions are made in the law notwithstanding the powers of the DPP articulated in Section 187 of the constitution. We therefore believe that the decision of the DPP can and should be challenged in court. Such a challenge will clarify the appropriate procedure and serve as a guide for future actions,” the body said.

It pointed out that even if a challenge to the decision of the DPP is made, there is nothing preventing Nandlall, in his capacity as the attorney who filed the private criminal charges, from following what was indicated by the DPP and reporting the matters to the police to begin a new process.

“It is important to note that the DPP has not, as far as we are aware, pronounced on the merits of the allegations. TIGI encourages both a challenge of the DPP’s decision and reporting the matters to the police,” the TIGI’s statement said.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had said on April 30th that his party would reconsider filing more private criminal charges and was yet to decide if reports would be made to police.

“I am wondering if it would be even useful to take these charges to the police…because the way everything is politicised now, you are just not gonna get an investigation but we have to discuss this issue further,” he said during a press conference.

He had stressed that the discontinued charges are serious and deal with large sums of money being “corruptly given out …I would have thought that everyone in Guyana, including the DPP…would have wanted these charges …to go to court and see whether the courts would vindicate them or convict them.”

He even brought attention to the private charge filed against him in 2015, pointing out that he did not have the good fortune of it being dismissed

Jagdeo used the occasion to question what the DPP meant by “good governance” when the discontinuation of the charges was announced. “How could spending over $1 billion of taxpayers’ money, breaking all the rules, be a cause in support of good governance…? A breach of the tender board, the procurement regulation resulting in the award of a contact of $600 million through sole sourcing be in support of good governance…?” he questioned.

“I think it is just a lame set of excuses. It is unbelievable,” he added.

The DPP’s first decision sparked a fierce attack on her from the PPP, which charged that she had “buckled under pressure.”

In a statement from its Freedom House headquarters, the PPP had said that “The discontinuance by the (DPP) of the private criminal charges filed …and her failure to do likewise, in relations to similar charges instituted against… [Singh and Brassington] is a clear demonstration that the DPP has buckled under pressure exerted by a Government that has caused criminal investigations to commence against her, in relation to a plot of land allocated to her, under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration.”

The party had charged that the reasons given by the DPP for her latest action “is comical at best. The DPP expects the Guyanese citizens to believe that she is responsible for ‘good governance’ and that ‘good governance’ constitutes preventing the prosecution of $14 million of taxpayers’ money being paid to rent a house monthly, in Albouystown to store drugs and the single-sourcing by a Minister of $605 million of taxpayers’ dollars to purchase drugs, without any resort to the Procurement Act.”

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