GEORGETOWN, Guyana, March 14, 2017 (CMC) – The Guyana government and the main opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) appeared to be on a collision course, today, after Opposition Leader and former president, Bharrat Jagdeo, publicly disagreed with the position of the David Granger government on presidential immunity that is guaranteed by the constitution.
Last week, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, said the issue of presidential immunity would be among matters to be discussed during the constitutional reform process, as he responded to questions, posed by reporters, about the claims, of being immune from any form of prosecution, by Jagdeo.
Jagdeo was among several former government ministers and officials arrested and or questioned, as investigations continue into a controversial multi-million dollar, land deal by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Speaking at a news conference here, today, Jagdeo said the minister, an attorney, was wrong in his interpretation of the law, and “I am so ashamed for him to think that anyone can remove a constitutional protection”.
Last week, Jagdeo told reporters that he had been asked several questions relating to the Pradoville land transaction “and I made a short statement, because they asked me questions in my official capacity and I have immunities on those, and so, I refused to answer those questions”.
Under the Guyana Constitution, the “holder of the office of President shall not be personally answerable to any court for the performance or the function of his or her office or for any act done in the performance of those functions and no proceedings, whether criminal or civil, shall be instituted against him or her in his or her personal capacity, in respect thereof, either during his or her term of office or thereafter”.
But Harmon explained that the Constitution defines the immunity as applicable to “a sitting president who takes certain steps while he is in office, so we respect that. I believe that this is one of the matters which they will look at during the constitutional reform process”.
He said that despite a level of immunity there are certain exceptions.
“You cannot commit an egregious type of act, which is something that an international court or anybody will deem to be as such, and still believe that nothing will happen.”
But Jagdeo, who served as president from 1999 to 2011, told reporters that he was also disappointed in the position adopted by Harmon, that the police could determine presidential immunity.
“It is only the courts (that) can determine these issues,” said Jagdeo, who, during the news conference, also took issue with Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, on the question of a “shortage” of foreign exchange here.
Jordan told radio listeners on Monday that there has been “some issues with foreign exchange” but maintained that Guyana has reserves in excess of GUY$600 million (One Guyana dollar =US$0.004 cents) “which …is almost equal to the Barbados reserves.
“The commercial banks also have adequate reserves so the issue of foreign exchange shortage is either contrived or as we indicated some problems are in there.”
Jordan said that the exchange rate “is more or less stabilised …all be it at a depreciated currency. We were for a long time at GUY$210, I think it is ranging now between GUY$210 and GUY$215 but at least more and more people are reporting as they go to the banks they are getting foreign exchange, although not large sums”.
“But that’s for a reason because the banks are now enforcing, you have to show why you want the currency and they require a couple of days to check that out and if they have you will get,” Jordan said.
But Jagdeo told reporters that if the Finance Minister wants to be truthful on the issue, he should be looking at the transactions of commercial banks and whether persons are able to buy as much foreign currency as they want for legitimate purposes.
“That is not happening now”, Jagdeo said, adding that he had received information that only small transactions were being given priority.
Jagdeo said that Jordan should now be offering solutions in a clear manner that brings relief to those complaining, and not compare Guyana to other countries nearby, that may be having economic issues.
Jagdeo predicted that the US dollar would soon be exchanged here at rates between GUY$250 and GUY$300.