By Richard Bhainie
FOLLOWING the recent revelations of public officials under the former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) administration misusing public funds to furnish themselves with ‘glittering gifts’, legal proceedings will be instituted to recover millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.
This is according to Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C, who, during an interview with this newspaper, explained that the government intends to sue public officials in their personal capacities, who have misused public funds.
Pursuant to Section 10 of Chapter 6:05, the State Liability and Proceedings Act, proceedings for the enforcement of any claim by or against the state shall be brought by or against the Attorney-General.
In this regard, Nandlall said he intends to utilise the full force of the law to set a precedent.
“The relevant state agencies will be activated and the laws will be applied in order to sanction those implicated, and to try to recover the public monies, through civil proceedings, where possible,” Nandlall said.
Thus far, the Guyana Police Force has been called in to investigate the circumstances surrounding government agencies gifting expensive items to former Ministers of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson and Annette Ferguson.
According to 2016 records, the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) had purchased a birthday gift for Patterson valued at $60,000. Further, in 2018, the same agency purchased a $384,700 birthday bracelet for Patterson from King’s Jewellery World.
Documents from May 2020 show that MARAD went on to approve $704,292 “towards the purchase of birthday gifts”. However, the documents did not specify who the items were purchased for.
It is further alleged that Ferguson received items, classified as donations, valued at $1.4 million from agencies which fell under her purview. A spreadsheet from the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation show that in excess of $6 million in “donations” were given to the Public Infrastructure Ministry between June 2015 and July 2016.
“I don’t think that there was at any time in the independent history of Guyana that we have seen such level of corruption, thievery, graft and abuse and misuse of public funds that we have seen between 2015 and 2020,” Nandlall said.
The Attorney-General explained that the actions by the former public officers is a gross violation of Section 48 of Chapter 73:02 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, which reads “a minister or official shall not in any manner misuse, misapply, or improperly dispose of public monies.”
“In five years, what we witnessed was a destruction of the productive sectors and the productive capacity of the country and the use of the taxation system to supplement the short fall in revenue by imposing the most oppressive set of tax laws.
“And, at the same time, they did not spend the revenue on the economy but stole, squandered and spent it on themselves,” the Attorney-General lamented.
Nandlall noted that the government has a legal and constitutional responsibility to taxpayers to hold those involved accountable for such wanton abuse of public funds, and an omission to act, will render the government complicit.
“Therefore, the laws of the country that were enacted to protect the state and public funds from such abuse must be invoked if we are to continue to subscribe to the cannons of accountable, responsible and transparent government,” the Attorney-General said.
He reiterated that civil proceedings will be instituted against all public officers, not just ministers, who were involved in the misappropriation of public funds, to recover the monies, as “the people of Guyana deserve no less”.