“Anti-corruption is everybody’s business”- Attorney General

The Attorney General’s Chamber and Ministry of Legal Affairs’ Anti-Corruption Sensitisation Seminar continued today at the Anna Regina Multilateral School Auditorium, Cotton Field Village, Essequibo Coast.

S.C. Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Basil Williams in his opening remarks said there are a suite of bills to address corruption. He pointed out that Guyana is second to Haiti in corruption according to Transparency International(TPI) and the more corrupt a country is, the more impoverished are its people. Therefore, “anti-corruption is everybody’s business because with the effects of corruption we have to develop measures to fight it and that’s why we have the State Asset Recovery Act (SARA), Whistleblower and Witness Protection Bills. The desirable outcome is an un-bribable public service.”

(From left) Ananda Dhurjon, Legislative Drafting Consultant, Rosetta Sargent, Parliamentary, Counsel, Devanand Ramdatt, Regional Chairman, Basil Williams, S.C. Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Aubrey Heath- Retemyer, Chief Executive Officer of the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), Charles Fung-a-Fatt, Chief Parliamentary Counsel and Principal Parliamentary Counsel, Joann Bond.

Regional Chairman, Devanand Ramdatt commended the Attorney General for such a timely seminar and urged the gathering to make maximum use of the distributed documents. He recommended that with the enactment of bills more consultations should be held to update the citizens of the progress.

The seminar saw four presentations providing overviews of the State Assets Recovery Act 2017, the Protected Disclosures (Whistleblower) Bill 2017, State Assets Recovery Unit and the Witness Protection Bill 2017.

Giving an overview of the State Asset Recovery Act 2017, Ananda Dhurjon, Legislative Drafting Consultant, said the purpose of the Act is to remove corrupt and wrongful use of state property, preserve state assets, and to recover those stolen.

Dhurjon defined ‘State Assets’ as property belonging to the state, such as the property of local government authority, statutory body, and public authority. The proceedings to recover state property is done through civil proceedings in the High Court. “The cornerstone of our State Assets Recovery Act is fairness. No innocent person will suffer any loss and the Act is designed to stem the scourge of corruption.”

Chief Executive Officer of the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU), Aubrey Heath-Retemyer, highlighted that the three major forms of corruption are; procurement fraud – fraud relating to purchase of goods, services, or commissioning of construction projects; illicit capital flight – money, commodities, (gold) or other assets, whether legally obtained or otherwise by residents, which are intentionally transferred, smuggled, or sent abroad without the knowledge of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), or other regulatory authorities and the underground economy – corrupt transactions that are prohibited by law and/or are undertaken by unauthorised providers.

Heath-Retemyer defined corruption as “an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies which undermines democracy and the rule of law and leads to violations of human rights.”

As such, the mission of SARU is to reduce corruption and increase transparency within government agencies and to utilise all legal means in order to retrieve stolen National wealth, the CEO stated.

Section of the crowd in attendance.

Speaking on the Protected Disclosures (Whistleblower) Bill, Parliamentary Counsel, Ronetta Sargent said the purpose of the bill is to aid in combatting corruption and other wrongdoings both in the public and private sector; encourage and facilitate the making of disclosures of improper conduct to the Protected Disclosures Commission and protect persons making these disclosures.

Sargent explained that information divulged in a prescribed manner to a protected disclosures commission which receives, investigates or otherwise deals with the disclosure. She added that if improper conduct was committed, the commission forwards the results of the investigation to the Attorney General.  If civil proceedings are to be instituted, then the Director of Public Prosecutions for criminal proceedings or a disciplinary body will take disciplinary action. “At all times, the person making a disclosure correctly under the act will be protected.”

The series of presentations concluded with an overview of the Witness Protection Bill by Principal Parliamentary Counsel, Joann Bond.

Bond described witness protection as the safeguarding of a threatened witness involved in the justice system including defendants and other persons before, during and after a trial. She said that witness protection is important because they play a critical role in serving justice.

“The cooperation of witnesses is crucial in achieving successful prosecutions and investigations… victims and witnesses may be reluctant to give information and evidence because of perceived or actual intimidation or threat against themselves or family,” Bond explained.

The Principal Parliamentary Counsel wrapped up her presentation by enlightening the audience of the process involving witness protection.

The session concluded with a question and answering segment, to allow the audience to get clarity on the topics discussed.

The first of the series of Anti-Corruption Sensitisation Seminars was held last month in Linden and will continue across Guyana in Corriverton and New Amsterdam, Berbice, before the end of 2017.

By: Ranetta La Fleur