RECENTLY when the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) held the Ministry of Finance Deputy Accountant General, Vladim Persaud for questioning based on a forensic audit that dealt with the management of NICIL and recommended criminal and/or disciplinary action against those responsible, some startling allegations were made by former president Donald Ramotar.
The former president has accused the Government of engaging in harassment and racial profiling of young Indian professionals. In societies like ours where racial sensitivities can ignite, given cleavages, it requires carefulness on the part of everyone, not only to recognise the dangers such accusations present
but also how to avoid succumbing to the temptation. Acknowledgement of these important factors is not meant to silence the voice of anyone who thinks such practices exist but to bring to the fore certain critical issues which cannot be ignored.
Hoping stories or allegations of this nature will disappear or retreat to the backburner does not extinguish the proverbial flame but merely sends it underground to simmer where it could become more dangerous. It is this conflagration society must seek to avoid and doing so includes examining each issue on its merit and whether laws and persons’ rights were or are being violated.
If the facts are looked at recognition would be given that SOCU, which was established under the PPP/C Government as part of the administration’s effort to stamp out corruption, was acting based on recommendations of the audit. Before it can be said that arresting someone in this instance is tantamount to harassment and racial profiling, it has to be established if such action was unlawful given the nature of the issue and whether the person’s race is considered a factor in the matter.
Harassment constitutes a pattern of behaviour that targets and singles out a group or individual with no probable cause. In the case of an investigation, speaking with those who are considered important to gathering evidence relating to the matter under review is part of the investigative process. Given Mr. Persaud’s position he would undoubtedly be considered intimately involved in the matter and likely to be identified for questioning.
Harassment and racial profiling are discriminatory acts under the law and deprive persons of their fundamental rights. Mutuma Ruteere, United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, addressing a November 2015 Special Event, hosted by the organisation, pointed out that racial profiling “impairs the fundamental rights of individuals and groups and expands on discrimination already suffered as a result of ethnic origin or minority status.”
Where the former president expressed the view such as was the case of the Deputy Accountant General could be determined. Alternately, if it is a case being pushed that law enforcement should ignore persons for questioning given their identity or political association, then it would be suggesting some are automatically exempted, and where the law originally intended to be universal now becomes subjected to legitimising inequality. Similarly it is worthy to recall among the first persons attracting law enforcement’s attention were former Minister of Public Service Dr. Jennifer Westford and her personal assistant, Ms. Cummings, both of whom are Africans and presently before the court, though the PPP/C has accused the APNU+AFC Government of witch-hunting. Even if the integrity of the Deputy Accountant General’s work performance can be vouched for such does not preclude or should prevent the police exercising due process in its work. If society is to reach the stage of social equality it cannot escape recognising and respecting the importance of all being held to the same standards and playing by the same rules. When members of the society deviate from such acceptance one of the things they do is undermine the course of justice and immobilise law enforcement.
It is not unreasonable to expect society will hope those who served or are serving in high offices will echo support for every institution that seeks to protect the property of the state, and further ensure all are treated equally under the law. The converse statement to the former president’s allegation risks accommodating the perception that some who attracted the police’s attention during the PPP/C government were the result of political and racial motivation, a perception the party would likely reject. It is reasonable to have assumed given allegations of corruption as a government, interest would be maintained in clearing one’s name by cooperating with and requesting others to support the police in its investigative work. At the same time it would not signal a healthy development for society where allegations of witch-hunting, harassment and racial profiling are made whenever issues of accountability are raised. The party leadership may find it noteworthy that it carries a responsibility to work for social equality.