The multi-agency task force in the Polar Beer case must be allowed to function independent of executive direction
Stabroek News letter. Monday May 26, 2008
With reference to the ongoing Polar Beer saga, my primary concern is that the multi- agency team be allowed to perform its tasks in a professional manner, and more importantly that all those fingered are allowed due process and indicted on the basis of evidence and proof and not on what any high official believes.
The President of Guyana at the last press conference in which the subject was raised, was asked whether the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) was part of the multi-agency team probing allegations of bribery at the said GRA. The President did not answer the question directly. He avoided a direct response by indicating that when he met with the team the Commissioner General was present. The Stabroek News can carry out its own investigations to verify that two senior officers of the GRA were part of the panel that interviewed the three most recently dismissed officers.
Having established the multi-agency task force, it is important that this team be allowed to function independent of executive direction. The team should be allowed to carry out its work in an independent and professional manner, and at the conclusion to submit their findings to the President.
The Head of State however seems to have ongoing access to information about what the interviewed officers are alleged to have said to the probe team and what actions the probe team has so far undertaken. At his press conference the President indicated that the officers had given inconsistent descriptions of the aerated drinks they examined. This is not unexpected. While I cannot vouch for the credibility of the reports reaching the President, I do not expect any Customs Officer to recall exactly the finer details of an examination done over six months ago. Which Customs Officer is going to recall precisely an examination that he or she did six months ago? For this very reason, the standard practice in Customs administrations has always been to rely less on the memory of the officers and more on the record – the examination of the Customs entry which details what was seen at the time so that when memory fails, the record is there.
The President further revealed that the investigators spoke to persons who work at the bond of the importer and those persons all said that they saw no aerated drinks. What does the President expect them to say? Further, the President observed that not one of the three million units of aerated drinks had been found. I am not surprised. Does the President of Guyana expect that soft drinks imported beginning last June to still be around in April of this year when the probe was launched? By now those drinks would have expired. Is the President aware that the weekly consumption of aerated beverages exceeds three million units and that over the Christmas holidays this amount trebles?
Since the President is so preoccupied with the maths of this case perhaps he should do his own calculations in respect to the number of beers that the company is supposed to account for. The GRA investigators by perusing the bill books of the company established that some 191,000 cases of beer were unaccounted for. If for argument’s sake we take all the soft drinks that were imported and assume them to be beer instead, the numbers would still fall way short of the 191,000 cases, way short. So, Mr President from where did all the extra beer come?
The same standards of guilt that apply to the company should be applied to the officers. They must not be indicted based on belief but based on evidence and proof. This may require painstaking investigations.
The Customs Officers in this case are being dismissed in gross violation of the principles of natural justice. Further, nasty allegations have been levelled against some of the officers to tarnish their reputations. The Special Branch visited the homes of these officers to investigate these dirty allegations which are now being made. It seems that there are forces determined to get these officers by hook or by crook.
For too long in this country, the authorities have gone after the corrupted while the corruptors are allowed to go free. This must not happen in this case.