Pradoville 2 probe…Jagdeo cannot hide behind veil of immunity – PM
says it was a clear case of malfeasance in office
There have been many arguments proffered recently that former President and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo is protected by the veil of immunity offered by Article 182 of the Constitution when it comes to the controversial Pradoville Two case.
The matter is one which saw members of the Jagdeo Cabinet, among other officials, benefitting from state lands at “pepper corn prices.”
Article 182 of the Constitution provides protection for those who hold and held the Office of the President to be immune from criminal or civil proceedings.
However, Prime Minister and First Vice President, Moses Nagamootoo , who is also an attorney, believes that given the circumstances surrounding the Pradoville Two matter, the Constitution does not offer protection for a former President.
Nagamootoo argued that Jagdeo will have to prove that his involvement in the case and the manner in which he acquired lands at Pradoville two was to the benefit of the state and not for personal enrichment.
The Prime Minister also articulated that the veil of immunity offered in the Constitution is not sacrosanct.
“My opinion is that the Article in the Constitution behind which Jagdeo wants to hide to use as an iron clad protection could not possibly apply in a situation where you act for your personal benefit. Indeed the Constitution notes that anything the President does while in or out of office, he is not answerable for those acts.”
The Prime Minister said that even with the aforementioned in mind, there is a “big but”. Nagamootoo argued that based on his interpretation of the Constitution, Jagdeo would have had to carry out his actions in the exercise of his official duty and responsibility to the state.
“He didn’t acquire that land for his official duty or buy it in the name of the tax payers. So trying to use the veil of immunity as a fig leaf to cover what is patently a malfeasance in office for personal gain does not offer any protection for the former president. I don’t think we are at a crossroads in this regard, though I do not speak for the police or prosecutors. But I believe there are legitimate grounds to develop a case against the former president.”
The Prime Minister maintained that the Opposition Leader would have to establish that he acquired the lands at Pradoville for the benefit of the state and not for enrichment.
“I don’t see how it could be argued that the veil of immunity has created an armor of protection for a President to commit a wrong doing for his own benefit. There is no veil of immunity in these circumstances.”
THE PRADOVILLE CASE
In early October 2015, SARU completed a report which stated that in 2010, the Bharrat Jagdeo Cabinet made a decision authorizing the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) to privatize State lands. NICIL is the body tasked with overseeing the privatization of State assets.
It reportedly spent more than $200M to develop the seafront community without the knowledge and blessings of the National Assembly and other relevant bodies.
The said lands were then secretly sold to the former Ministers and known friends and associates of the previous regime. At the time of the sale, the report said, the lands were grossly undervalued and sold at a price substantially below the market value, thereby depriving the state of its full benefits.
SARU said, “There is a direct link between the misconduct and the abuse of powers and duties of their position. The former Cabinet members knew they were doing a wrong in transferring State lands to their names and that of their acquaintances for undervalued market prices for the land. The lands were sold for $114 per square foot at the time.”
The Department of the Ministry of the Presidency said that Public Officers ought to carry out their duties, not for the benefit of themselves, but for the benefit of the public as a whole.
“If they neglect or misconduct themselves by their actions in the course of their duties, this may lead to a breach or abuse of the public’s trust. The act of the Cabinet members for their benefit is serious enough to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust.”