This week, the nation witnessed, first-hand, how the law enforcement agencies of the state and the criminal justice system can be used by the authoritarians against the citizenry. The offence of Misconduct in Public Office has never been instituted in Guyana’s recorded legal history, until now. Dr. Ashni Singh, the former Minister of Finance and Mr. Winston Brassington, the former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), were charged with these offences two weeks ago. I have received information in confidence from sources, which I have no reason to doubt that these charges and similar charges, which are to come, are based upon advice received by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) from Dr. Sam Sittlington. The role of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in recent times, has become quite ambivalent, to say quite the least.
These charges allege no dishonesty against the accused persons; they allege no fraudulent conduct; they allege no misappropriation of funds; they do not allege that the accused persons obtained any personal gains from these transactions; neither do they allege any missing funds from the proceeds of the sales in question. All that they allege is that the sales were done without obtaining a certificate of valuation. There is in the public domain, irrefutable evidence that these sales were conducted via a public tender and the prices, at which the properties were sold, were generated by market forces. I resolutely maintain that selling a property at a price generated by market forces can never amount to criminal conduct under any civilised legal system. It is of note that these sales occurred over a decade ago. They were audited by the Auditor General, who never queried them. These audited reports were examined by a Public Accounts Committee (PAC), chaired by the Parliamentary Opposition, now in Government, who never questioned them.
It is common knowledge that both of the accused persons were overseas when the charges were filed. The summonses for them to appear in Court on the 8th of May 2018, at 1:30pm, were only served at their respective addresses in Guyana around mid-day of the 7th of May 2018. These summonses were obviously not served personally upon them. Notwithstanding, they both appeared with their attorneys-at-law at the Court to which they were summoned, promptly at 1:30 PM. The Prosecution did not oppose bail. These persons have impeccable personal records and reputation; they are prominent in society; they have no criminal antecedents; as soon as they were summoned, though not personally and although they were on another continent, they appeared at the place, date and time when summoned. Once the Prosecution did not oppose bail, it means that the Prosecution was satisfied that the men were not flight risks and that they will turn up for their trials. The offence is a bailable one. Upon conviction, it carries a maximum penalty of one year imprisonment. In those circumstances and after reciting to the Court, all the aforementioned matters, I applied for the accused persons to be released on their own recognisance. My application was rejected. Bail was imposed in the sum of $6M each! I submit with the greatest of respect, that the quantum of bail imposed was punitive and excessive. What followed next convinced the objective by-stander that extraneous influences were at work.
Every day, persons of no known profile pass through the very court system without being handcuffed, and moved from the upper flat to the lower flat of the Magistrate’s Court building without resorting to the infamous chute; nor are they placed in the “holding cell” while arrangements are being made for their bail to be lodged. However, these facilities were not extended to a former Minister of Finance, who served in that capacity and in the National Assembly of Guyana for almost a decade! Singh and Brassington, for absolutely no good reason, were handcuffed and transported through the chute, making them available for the flashing cameras of the large contingent of reporters present. It was simply done to humiliate, degrade and publicly embarrass them. Were it not for a generous few, who pooled their resources together to raise the whopping $12M imposed as bail, a few persons would have been, presumably, more than joyful because Singh and Brassington would have had to spend, at least, overnight, in prison. However, the saga did not end there.
They were invited, the following morning, to visit SOCU’s office to assist in further investigations. You will note, I said “invited.” I accompanied them to SOCU’s office. When we arrived there, the phone calls started to come. A different tune began to play. Suddenly, I was informed that the men were under arrest! Brassington was questioned on over 25 transactions, involving sales dating back to the early 90s. However, it is interesting to note that there are certain transactions done under identical circumstances that were not the subject of these investigations. This must militate against the integrity and impartiality of these investigations and those who authorised them. The details of these transactions will be released in due course.
Current Minister Carl Greenidge purchased a property located in Bel-Air Gardens from NICIL while the PNC was in Government. There was no resort to public tender. I doubt that there was any valuation done. That transaction is not being investigated. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government sold over 100,000 house lots to ordinary Guyanese, as a matter of policy, below market value. Will these transactions become the subject of investigations? Hundreds of plots of lands were sold at the various industrial estates, intentionally, far below market value, to encourage investments in the manufacturing sector. Will these transactions be investigated? Hundreds of lease-hold titles for agricultural lands were converted into free hold titles and distributed across the country without the resort to valuations. Will these transactions be investigated? The PPP Government also gave to the Burnham family Transport for five acres of land, east of the Botanical Gardens, would this transaction be investigated? I can go on, but I believe I have cited sufficient examples.
I want to make it explicitly clear that I draw attention to these matters, not to advocate that the recipients of these lands be charged. I do so only to illustrate by analogy how preposterous the current charges and the ongoing investigations are. I am prepared to bet my bottom dollar that none of these charges will be successfully prosecuted. They cannot. I believe that those advising their institution know this full well. Their intention is not to secure convictions. It is merely to engage in political persecution, to publicly humiliate political opponents and to do untold reputational damage to those who worked with the last administration. However, I wish to remind that we are governed by a legal system, which guarantees a remedy to every wrong.