Georgetown, Guyana – (April 20, 2018) Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, today, addressed the charges of malfeasance in public office, which have been brought against former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh and Chairman of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Mr. Winston Brassington, noting that they are as a result of months of thorough investigations and evidence gathering by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), an arm of the Guyana Police Force (GPF). He made it clear too that the charges are not politically motivated or directed by the Government.
In an interview with the Public Information and Press Services Department of the Ministry of the Presidency, Minister Harmon further said that the charges that have been brought against Minister of Public Health, Ms. Volda Lawrence and Minister of Social Cohesion, Dr. George Norton are a frivolous and clear attempt to taint the reputation of members of the Government. He, however, said that it is his belief that when the cases are brought before the Court those Ministers will be vindicated.
“The charges of corruption, it’s a very loose statement that is made by the Opposition that tries to characterise the way in which Government conducts its business. These talks of corruption are without any proof and the Opposition is now seeking to grab at straws… The security agencies, the Police Force and so on have their work to do and when they find as they have been doing, evidence of corruption, evidence of malfeasance and they will take the necessary steps. We don’t have to tell them as a Government do this or do that. They are professional people, we invest in their professional training and therefore they know exactly what they have to do,” Minister Harmon said.
Emphasising the value of the forensic audits, the State Minister said that while these were aimed at ensuring that corrective action is taken in state agencies to correct corrupt or potentially corrupt practices, where recommendations for police actions were made, that information was passed on to the GPF. According to SOCU, a number of cases are pending and it was on that information that Minister Harmon had said in an statement issued yesterday, that there are more charges to come.
“The forensic audits that were ordered, the results of those audits came to the Cabinet, the Cabinet looked at it and there were recommendations for police action to be taken and where there were those recommendations, there were sent to the Police for them to take action. Beyond that, as a Government we do not interfere. It is important for people to understand that we do not direct the Police Force as to who should be charged. We do not direct the Director of Public Prosecutions as to who is to be charged, we do not direct the Police Legal Advisor as to who is to be charged. These are people who act within the ambit of their professional training and judgment on the matters that are before them. So what SOCU has said is that these are just two charges and there are more to come and that is the basis of my statement,” he noted.
On February 28, 2017, the Stabroek News reported that Head of the agency, Mr. Sydney James had said that it was looking at 18 forensic audit reports, which have resulted over 100 smaller investigations. The Stabroek News further reported that “James informed that none of the investigations stemming from the 18 audit reports referred to the Unit have yet been completed.
He explained that although charges have been filed and legal advice sought in some of the cases, investigations into other aspects are still being conducted… In attempting to further explain the complexity of the audit investigations, James said that there are about 86 separate investigations arising out of the NICIL audit and 45 out of the GRDB audit.”
Minister Harmon made it clear that the Government is committed to transparency and to ending corruption at all levels and will not stand in the way of ensuring that those who hold public posts and engage in malfeasance while in office are brought to justice. “We expect that the security forces will do their work but we will not at the same time allow Mr. Jagdeo and his cohorts, to deny us the right to perform our functions as Ministers of the Government that the people of Guyana elected us to do,” he said. Referring to the trumped up private charges brought against Ministers Lawrence and Norton, Minister Harmon said, “This is all a strategy to tie us up in court action day after day so that we can take our eyes off the important thing, which is develop this country for the good of all of our people.”
The Minister said that the David Granger administration, since its assumption to office in 2015, has had the ‘Herculean’ task of fixing the systematic of corruption, which existed under the former administration. He noted that it is under this administration that significant steps were taken to improve accountability and transparency in the public sector and the world’s perception of Guyana.
“I am convinced that we are on the right path. I am convinced that we are doing the right things, maybe not as fast as we need to do it, but sometimes when you have a heavy load, you have to fetch it and then at the same time, move forward, it slows you up a little bit and that heavy load and heavy burden is the years of corrupt practices, which we have to clean up that we inherited from the previous administration. The quality of our Government is seen by the huge amount of funds made available by the Islamic Development Bank for projects in Guyana, which I think is $900million. Never before such a large sum of money made available to us, one being the fact that American Airlines, a major airline in the United States of America has, in spite all that is being said, decided that they are going to commence operations from December,” Minister Harmon said.
Further, he noted that Citizens Bank Guyana through its Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Clifford Reis has informed Government that it has been able to partner with the Mellon National Bank in the United States of America, one of the largest banks in that country. He said, “Now, this to some people might appear to be small items but when you put it all together what you get is a certain level of confidence in the way in which Guyana is being governed.”
The Minister of State said that the Government remains committed to the tenets of accountability and transparency and stands by its record of management in public office. On behalf of the Government of Guyana, he pledged that it will continue to govern the country with integrity and respect for the rule of law and public officials continue to be held at high standards to ensure that the Guyanese society does not return to the state of lawlessness it once was over two decades ago.
“I believe in action and not just talk and the action is that our approach to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the commitments under the FATF is basically putting your money where your mouth is. Minister [Basil] Williams, our Attorney General is currently in the USA attending a CFATF Conference. Minister Williams is the Chairman of the CFATF and all of these steps have been taken since we came into office to ensure that we can move this country out of all these different lists as we call them, the black list, grey list, white list and all of these things. So that we are placed in a situation where we can now be an example to the rest of the region, we can be an example to the world, and what financial probity is all about so when people speak about corruption and so on you have to balance it with what with the rest of the world is seeing of Guyana, what the CFATF is seeing, what the FATF is seeing and what they are saying about processes,” the Minister said.