Corruption” A case of stealing more than one can hide
When the wider society began to talk about theft and corruption, when the media picked up the issue, when the politician made it a campaign issue, the rebuttal was that anyone making the accusation should provide the proof.
None other than Bharrat Jagdeo challenged those making the accusations. He dared anyone to find anything that would seek to tarnish the image of the people around him and those working in the public sector, especially those in the upper echelons of the government.
Being in the government has its advantages. The police are never allowed to investigate government officials and when these people commit a crime they are allowed to continue their normal lives. Immediately names like Kellawan Lall and Ashni Singh come to mind. Lall knocked down a policeman and left him crippled. He has not been called on to pay for that incident.
Ashni Singh had more than his fair share of alcohol then got into his car. He crashed into a woman and made a mess of her vehicle. He was never prosecuted. He did it again some time later with the same result. This time around, he replaced the vehicle and the victims were happy.
The first sign that all was not right was when a Government Minister got charged for causing some $600 million to disappear without a trace. Commenting on that charge, Jagdeo said that when the time comes the evidence would be provided to clear the accused minister of any indiscretion.
There were the audits that uncovered a lot of irregularities. It showed money leaving government coffers to destinations unknown. Some went into questionable projects but the manner in which this was done was certainly in keeping with financial regularities.
At subsequent press conferences, spokesmen for the previous governments claimed that these audits were of mere nuisance value, that they were designed to embarrass more than anything else.
At the same time the government explained that while the findings may not be enough to secure prosecutions, they were enough to spark investigations that could lead to prosecutions.
But while all the talk was going on the investigators were not fazed. The result is that there has been an astounding revelation. There was a Permanent Secretary who worked with the government in the highest office in the land. He has evolved as the most moneyed public servant in the history of the public service.
It is not that he was born into money nor was he a lottery winner. And even if he had won a United States lottery it is unlikely that he would have amassed such wealth. The initial finding is that he had salted away between US$50 million and US$75 million in local bank accounts.
One report is that his wife also has a humongous bank account although she was not known to work in any high paying job. That amount is far more than some rich people have in their accounts–$400 million.
The investigators say that this permanent secretary made his money from his business, one of which was selling phone cards. If he sold phone cards to the entire Caribbean for the seven years he claimed he did, and kept all the money, he could not have sold US$2 million.
The word is that Scotiabank rejected some huge deposits that were being made around the time of the last general elections. That set off the alarm bells in the offices of the people investigating money laundering. It is said that there were three attempts to deposit sums of in excess of $150 million.
The image I have is this permanent secretary with tons of cash around him and nowhere to really put it away. The banks would ask questions and he couldn’t load the money into haversacks and get people to carry it out of the country to some unknown location.
The question is whether all this money really belongs to this permanent secretary. People are saying that some of the money belongs to others who were in the government. The fact that a lot of this money was in a safe in Office of the President would suggest that some people there had a share of that money to their name.
Was the money given by foreign investors? Was it siphoned off from projects that foreign entities gave to Guyana to facilitate development? Did it come from the Norway fund?
Why would anyone seek to defraud the country when there are people who need so much? That has to be a case of someone taking more than one hundred people’s share while the people target their employers.
To put this money in perspective, consider the Marriott was constructed a cost of US$58 million and we had to borrow that money. Those of us who work must still pay the interest by way of our taxes.
A school like Queen’s College is worth about US$15 million. The specialty hospital is going to be built at a cost of US$15 million. The money this permanent secretary has could build five specialty hospitals. That is what stealing does to a country.
I want to hear Bharrat Jagdeo comment on this. After all, the money was essentially in his office. It was Clement Rohee who explained to me how Jagdeo was able to build the house he has. He saved every cent he ever earned. Perhaps he can tell me about the saving ability of this 43-year-old.
Have the bank accounts been frozen? I hope so. The lawyer for the permanent secretary told me that the reporters should not say that the discovery is linked to corruption under the previous administration. He also said that the permanent secretary is cooperating. Is he calling names?
He says that he will pay the taxes. The audacity is unbelievable. He still wants to hold on to his money, albeit ill-gotten gains.
We expect that more discoveries would be made. Brian Tiwarie has described the holdings of former Attorney General Anil Nandlall. Is there also a look at the former Housing Minister?