House approves $116M to operationalize SARA
Aug 04, 2017 , http://www.kaieteurnewsonline....operationalize-sara/
The National Assembly yesterday passed a total of $116M that will be used to operationalize the State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA). This sum was approved via a supplementary provision requested by the Ministry of Legal Affairs in the Financial Paper No.2 of 2017.
Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams
The total sum was separated into three parts.
Based on the remarks given under Current Estimates, $89,897,285 will go towards providing for the establishment of SARA which will be equipped with five Managerial Staff, 13 technical staff, 12 supervisory and clerical staff, and 16 services and related staff.
Additionally, $13M was approved under Capital Estimates to purchase two vehicles, since the agency does not have any vehicles presently. A further $13,424,000 was approved to purchase furnishing and equipment for a building that is to be rented to house the Agency. The furnishing and equipment includes furniture, a television, a refrigerator, a photocopier, a projector, a server and water dispenser. Currently, SARA is operating out of the Ministry of the Presidency, and does not have its own office.
Despite all these provisions being approved, it was not done without with questions being posed by members of the parliamentary opposition.
Former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall had questioned what authority the Minister of Legal Affairs had to request funds for SARA. He argued that the SARA Act does not specify the subject Minister for SARA. After much back and forth between Nandlall and the Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams, the Minister said that in Section 2 of the SARA Act that deals with definitions, states that the Legal Affairs Minister is indeed the subject Minister for SARA.
Williams was also asked to inform the National Assembly about the organisational structure of SARA. He said that based on the Act, the Parliamentary Appointments Committee is to appoint a Director and Deputy Director within four months of the Agency coming into effect.
SARA was officially established on May 4, 2017. As such, since the four month timespan has not elapsed, the present Director and Deputy Director will continue to occupy those positions.
Further, Opposition Member, Juan Edghill asked the question as to how there can be a supplementary provision for the agency where there was no provision in the original budget for 2017.
Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan explained that the Financial Paper containing the supplementary provision is acting as an amendment to the original budget.
“It doesn’t have to have a previous budget line item. That is the reason why we have brought a supplementary paper to avoid any doubt and supplementary papers, up to five of them, can be brought in a year, amending budgets, adding to budgets, subtracting to budgets and can be scrutinised.”
Meanwhile, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira raised the point that Section 14 of the SARA Act speaks of ‘The Recovery of State Assets Fund”. According to the Act, the purpose of the Fund is to receive credits from Civil Recovery Orders and payments made or debts recovered in relation to Civil Recovery Orders under the Act.
She said that Subsection 3 states that the SARA Director may authorise payments of out the fund to facilitate the discharge of SARA’s functions. Teixeira asked on what grounds is government providing funds for SARA when Section 14 (3) makes no such provision and that there is no other provision in any part of the Act for any release of money from the Consolidated Fund.
She said that SARA is expected to raise its own funds and finance itself.
However, Minister Williams said that SARA only became a legal entity on May 4, 2017 and that the supplementary provisions being sought are simply to operationalize the Agency.
The Opposition Chief Whip argued that the government needs to amend the SARA Act to allow for funds to be disbursed to it from the Consolidated Fund. She called for a postponement of the request for supplementary funding until the government can make provision for such disbursements.
However, this was not adhered to and the Speaker of the National Assembly had put all supplementary provisions to question and it was supported by the majority.
Now that funding will be injected into the Agency, it will be able to execute its functions. These specific functions are contained in Section 6 of the Act. SARA will investigate whether property or interests in property that constitutes state property was obtained via unlawful conduct involving a public official.
The Agency will also have the power to trace and identify property locally and abroad suspected to be state property that had been obtained through unlawful conduct.
Moreover, the Agency will be enabled by the Act to institute and conduct proceedings in the Court for the purposes of recovery or protection of state property, or for the freezing of proceeds of corruption or unlawful conduct or related offences, or for the payment of compensation and disciplinary measures in relation to state property.