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– Dr Thomas says gov’t should have awaited decision on constitutional challenge to SARA before dismantling agency
The unilateral dismantling of the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government was done notwithstanding the fact that a High Court decision on the constitutionality of the State Assets Recovery Act is still pending.
Professor, Dr. Clive Thomas, who was just last week fired as the Director of SARA, told Village Voice Guyana that the Government should have awaited the High Court’s decision.
“Well, I would have expected them to await the court’s ruling. And I would have expected that if the government recognises now that procedures were not followed, what they could have done was correct it, if they really wanted the agency,” Dr. Thomas said.
Before he was unceremoniously dismissed, Dr. Thomas, in a report on the operations of SARA, had informed the Attorney General Anil Nandlall that three years have elapsed since the constitutionality of the State Assets Recovery Act of 2017 was challenged in the High Court. Three months after the Bill was passed in the National Assembly in April, 2017, Political Activist, Ramon Gaskin had laid 37 grounds in the High Court to support his call for the scrapping of the legislation.
“Three years later, the challenge has not been adjudicated upon,” Dr. Thomas told the Attorney General while noting that the Court was written to ascertain the cause for the delay.
While emphasising that the Government should have awaited the decision of the High Court before deciding on the future of SARA, Dr. Thomas told Village Voice Guyana, that the constitutional challenges had affected SARA’s ability to effectively challenge suspected defaulters in the Court.
“Cases taken to the Courts have been stayed by judges, pending rulings on the constitutional challenge,” he told the Attorney General.
Such is the situation in the case SARA vs. Queens Atlantic Investment Inc. (QAII). Long before its dissolution, SARA had filed legal proceedings against QAII, over the controversial sale of Sanata Textile property which was owned by the State, however, due to the constitutional challenge, SARA asked the Court to stay the proceedings. In his recent report to the Attorney General, Dr Thomas had signaled SARA’s intention to still recover $1.2B from QAII.
The Sanata Textile Case, he noted, forms part of a list of 13 cases, filed in the Courts by SARA with an approximate possible recovery value of about $2B. The others include 11 Pradoville cases with a possible recovery of $200M; the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry (GBTI) case with a possible recovery of $230M and the Sanata Textiles case with a possible recovery of $1.2B over the sale of lands.
Other cases, include the Jennifer Westford matter with a possible recovery of $1.15B and the National Hardware case with a possible recovery of $11B.
However, SARA’s claim against GBTI for the payment of $224M with respect to a 2015 land agreement was dismissed by the High Court on the basis of technicality. But while the High Court has dismissed the case, Dr. Thomas said the agency was consulting its lawyers to determine the way forward.
“We have a right to appeal it…[and] we were consulting on how to proceed; we have the lawyers from overseas as well as the local lawyers who were advising us. The matter was not closed,” he told this publication.
Dr. Thomas, in his report, had also indicated that SARA’s Forensic Audit Department had processed 40 cases.
“Before the No Confidence vote was passed on 21 December, 2018 in the National Assembly, Sara had recovered, through settlements, $22M from the Pradoville project. The agency was set to recover a further $55B, when the No Confidence vote was passed. After that incident, the once interested parties in settlements broke off contact with SARA,” the now fired Director had reported.
SARA had divided the national patrimony into six distinct categories: buildings, plant (equipment and vehicles; lands, money, gold; and petroleum (oil and gas). Cognizant of the fact that the court proceedings in Guyana are long and complicated, it had decided that, whenever possible, out-of-court settlements, would be ideal for civil recovery.
Worked closely with gold board
In the Gold Industry, SARA, Dr Thomas said, worked closely with the Guyana Gold Board and other law enforcement agencies to reduce gold smuggling. According to him, classified reports showed that by late 2014, Guyana was losing in excess of 15,000 ounces of gold per week – a clear indication that the country’s gold declaration is much lower than actual production.
“In its efforts to staunch this flow of gold smuggling and recovering Guyana gold seized in other jurisdictions, SARA has had discussions with the Brazilian and Surinamese Authorities. Significant progress was made in this area in Brazil before the Bolsonaro Administration took office. Since then several of their officers have been moved around and that initiative has lost momentum,” Dr. Thomas reported.
He also pointed to the August 2012 incident in which a boat carrying approximately US$12.5m worth of smuggled gold was raided by bandits but was later recovered by the authorities in Curacao. “Presently a request has been made to the Curacao authorities to return 75 per cent of the amount recovered. SARA has initiated the effort and provided the narrative for the MLAT, which the Ministry of Public Security has since sent off. We are now awaiting Curacao’s response,” Dr. Thomas reported.
During a recent interview, Dr. Thomas’ Deputy, Aubrey Heath-Retemyer, who was also fired, said SARA had recovered millions of dollars, and was well on its way to recovering more than $12B.
Adamant that both SARU and SARA had done extensive work notwithstanding their limitations, Heath-Retemyer said more could have been done had it not been for PPP/C agents, who actively worked against the recovery bodies.
“SARA would have done a lot more, had it not been a fact that some elements that had a political agenda, were left in place in the Granger Administration and it seriously affected his policies and especially SARA. They used their professional positions, as cover for their political agenda and so there were times when [we] were stifled and to my horror, within the last two years, I have heard people in the government echoing precisely what the opposition was saying,” Heath-Retemyer reasoned.