Corruption probe- Task force is competent and independent -- Jagdeo
Kaieteur News news article. Sunday 11 May 2008.
Calls by the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) to disband the special task force that is investigating corruption at the Guyana Revenue Authority have been brushed aside by President Bharrat Jagdeo.
Speaking at a press conference at the State House yesterday, President Bharrat Jagdeo said that he is confident the task force is competent enough, and he is not taking seriously the statements of GPSU’s President, Patrick Yarde.
On Friday Yarde expressed a no-confidence vote for the current probe and said his union may turn to international bodies to air its case.
However, Jagdeo was emphatic that the team was independent enough and has the authority to investigate fraud.
The special task force was established several weeks ago after a major scandal was revealed over the importation of Polar beer from Venezuela.
GRA officers are being accused of taking bribes to manipulate Customs records to show that, instead of beer, soft drinks were imported.
According to the Head of State, the task force, comprising the Ministry of Finance, the Auditor General's Department and the Police was established. The Auditor General, he explained, reports directly to the National Assembly and the Public Accounts Committee, which is headed by the Opposition.
The Police are also mandated to, among other things, investigate fraud.
“I don’t see what he (Yarde) wants…” the President said.
GPSU has a history of, whenever attempts are made to fight corruption at GRA and some members are affected, the union “comes alive” and wants to protect them.
According to Jagdeo, on one hand, GPSU wants increases for its members, but when there is a move to stamp out the corruption in that area, there is a problem.
If Yarde is serious, he should demonstrate this by urging his members to cooperate with the probe, the Head of State said.
Yarde had claimed on Friday that his union was not allowed to be present with its members during questioning. Five GRA officers have been dismissed and 11 others have been sent on leave.
The union official also said that GPSU will be challenging the denial of the task force that GRA officials were part of the probe team. That represents a direct conflict of interest, since the authority is the centre of the investigation.
Flanked by other union officials at the GPSU Regent and New Garden Streets headquarters, Yarde said that the membership is concerned “at the attitude of the administration of the Guyana Revenue Authority in its treatment of its employees as the Authority proceeds with the so-called investigation into allegations of collusion by GRA staff with Kong Inc/Fidelity Investment Inc to defraud the Government of millions of dollars in tax revenues.”
So far, the union has written to GRA Chairman Clive Roopchand seeking an urgent meeting to discuss, among other things, that its members are fairly treated and not subjected to intimidation.
The chairman of the special task force, Deodat Sharma, and Deputy Commissioner of the GRA Human Resources, Archana Joshi, have also been written to separately by the union to reinstate Rabindra Ramsarran and Sadesh Pitamber, two Internal Affairs officers of the GRA, who were dismissed three Fridays ago.
“We are yet to receive any reply to our letters (and this) has led us to conclude that the delay in response must be that there is no justification for what is taking place, regarding the targeting, harassment and dismissal of the workers in question,” Yarde said.
GRA staffers are being questioned about containers brought in by Fidelity Investments and Kong Inc last year, importers of Venezuela’s Polar beer, which were those being cleared by several GRA officers.
Investigators believe that the containers which came in last year were filled with Polar beer, but the GRA officers, including members of the Internal Affairs, Enforcement, VAT and Customs, departments allegedly colluded to forge documents to show instead that there were soft drinks in the containers.
Sources close to the investigations say that GRA officers are unable to agree on the kind of soft drinks in the container, and checks around the country did not find any of the ones that were claimed to be in the containers.
The GRA officers were also questioned about their bank accounts, vehicles and other assets owned, this newspaper was told.
About four weeks ago, President Bharrat Jagdeo had ordered a full blown probe into possible corruption involving civil servants, and their assets, after the possible scam unearthed.