Saying that he has taken note of the reports of the “damning” findings of the police audit of the financial records of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), President David Granger today rebuffed calls for the unit to be dismantled and assured that government will work to ensure public confidence in it is restored.
“The Police Commissioner and the Minister of Public Safety (Security) presumably will take the necessary action to ensure that the unit continues to enjoy the confidence of the public,” Granger said in response to questions from Stabroek News moments after he swore in two new members of the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).
Granger’s reaction comes days after Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan said that the findings require the “shifting around” of persons and possibly firings. Leading the list of 18 recommendations is the immediate transfer of the unit’s head, Assistant Commissioner, Sydney James and his secretary. Though numerous instances of fraud were uncovered there was no recommendation for anyone to be terminated.
Asked if he has taken note of Ramjattan’s comments, Granger said “I have taken note and I agree with the Minister of Public Security that in the event that there had been any impropriety or misconduct [that] disciplinary action be taken. It (SOCU) is an organic part of the police force and it is not a free agent. It is not a loose cannon and we will ensure that public confidence in SOCU is restored”.
At a party press conference last week, Ramjattan declined to state some of the recommendations made but said that Commissioner of Police Leslie James recently told him that action will be taken.
“I understand that action will be taken by the Commissioner…I saw the report and it is not a very nice report,” Ramjattan said.
He made it clear that he could not interfere in the matter, specifically saying that the commissioner ordered the audit after receiving information and has indicated that he will take action. “He told me. I am hoping that it will be action taken very early,” he added.
According to information gleaned by Stabroek News, the Guyana Police Force (GPF) Audit Department completed the audit several weeks ago and submitted its report to James. James ordered the audit in February following claims of grave mismanagement, which included the misuse of its operational fund.
The audit uncovered serious irregularities, including the falsification of records. The auditors found invoices from several business places that were duplicated or tampered with, fraudulent double entries, and false entries.
A sum of $10.3 million that was paid to an Alberttown business for car rental services raised red flags as the receipts provided to the auditors were said to be vague, while the owner of the business was described as being uncooperative. The businessman has since denied this stating that the auditors did not come at the agreed time and made it clear that his records can be accessed by them at any time. He claims too that he is still owed almost $2M out of that sum for services provided over a six-month period.
The backdating of receipts to make the one-off payouts of $600, 000 to three investigators look legitimate was also highlighted in the report, a copy of which was seen by this newspaper.
Meanwhile, Granger made it clear that government will allow the unit to remain in operation. “It is going to remain, it is not going to be dismantled, it has work to do,” he stressed.
The SOCU head is a former army intelligence officer who was appointed under the PPP/C government in 2014 following the establishment of the unit. Since leaving office in 2015, the party has accused the government of interfering in the work of the unit and issuing directives which targeted members of the party.
The PPP has since called for the unit to be shut down and for an independent forensic audit to be conducted towards prosecuting all personnel implicated in wrongdoing.