…defends SARA’s reputationCriticisms abound that the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), formerly the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU), was created with a political mandate to witch-hunt Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) members; but the agency’s head, Professor Clive Thomas, has brushed aside these denunciations and has stated that SARA will not bow to any political pressure.Dr Thomas is reassuring the public that the agency is an independent one. HeHead of SARA, Professor Clive Thomassays that neither he nor anyone from SARA takes political instructions from politicians, and has explained that that is the reason for removing the agency from under the direction of the Ministry of the Presidency.With the establishment of SARU, many previous senior Government functionaries under the PPP were arrested by Police, questioned about a series of matters, and later released; but none was ever charged. “Oh no! We take no outside instructions. We develop our own cases and (our) own investigations, but we are advised by (an) international lawyer, because this is part of a commitment the Government agreed to in 2008 when they joined the United Nations’ convention on corruption,” the SARA head told Guyana Times recently.He explained that the coalition Government does not have any involvement in the running of the agency, but the Opposition has doubted this assertion because they claimed that SARA is staffed mostly by politicians, and is imbued with a political mandate to witch-hunt, persecute, harass, and intimidate identified segments of the population.The PPP has argued that SARA has very little to do with justice, but is driven by an agenda overwhelmed with political vengeance and discrimination.Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has repeatedly called out Dr. Thomas, stating Thomas is no longer a professional, but has been “politically compromised.”Asked to respond to that opinion, the SARA head said, “That is his (Jagdeo’s) opinion! SARA is independent, and nobody has ever given me any direction as to what investigations I should pursue, or any matter related to the activities of SARA. No politician has done that, and I won’t allow the Leader of the Opposition to do that either.”Pressed further on that issue, Dr. Thomas was asked whether, to keep his integrity, he would resign his post as head of SARA if the suggestions being made by the Opposition are true. He said, “There is no possibility of that ever happening, because the law is clear. This is an independent agency, and it cannot be directed by any outside group, and that is why we left the Ministry of the Presidency.”Professor Thomas told Guyana Times that although SARA has been blamed for witch-hunting PPP politicians, that has not been proven. “We have been set up by an Act of Parliament which was passed last May, and therefore we never had SARA, but SARU. We no longer operate at Office of the Presidency. We have been proceeding with our investigations, and the work we have been doing…We have arrested no body. We are a civil recovery agency.”The PPP has already made known its intention to implement several changes to the SARA Bill 2017 if the Party is re-elected to office in 2020. While noting that the Bill contains some good elements, Jagdeo has said his Party would remove the ambiguity about private property. Further, the PPP intends to remove all the provisions that make the SARA Bill unconstitutional.Jagdeo said his Party would also ensure that the head of the unit was accountable to someone else, as opposed to leaving it to have that head make his own decisions. The PPP plans to also re-establish the Integrity Commission and provide it with the full powers to execute its mandate effectively and efficiently.The PPP has said it would ensure that all public officials submit their statements to the Commission, and Jagdeo has said that in cases where they do not, action will be taken against them.The Opposition has lamented the fact that the current administration did not submit statements to the Commission, but moved swiftly to pass the SARA Bill to recover stolen property.The PPP argues that the agency creates an environment that encourages the violation of individuals’ constitutional rights and undermines the rule of law, since it has conferred on a sole individual – the Director of SARA — powers that are 10 times greater than those of the Guyana Police Force.A total of $89.9 million of current expenditure, to cater for salaries, rental, utilities and other such recurring expenditure, was approved in Parliament for SARA last year. Under Capital Estimates, $13 million were approved for the purchase of two pick-up vehicles for the unit. Another $13.4 million were approved for the purchase of furnishing and other equipment for the property being rented to house the agency.SARA has been operating at new premise since November 26, 2017.
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