Chief Justice sets December for ruling on validity of misconduct charges against Singh, Brassington
Having completed hearing all arguments, acting Chief Justice Roxane George SC has tentatively set December 3rd for ruling in the challenge mounted by Dr Ashni Singh and Winston Brassington to the validity of the charges levelled against them over the sale of government lands.
Singh, the former Finance Minister, and Brassington, former head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), are challenging the charges laid against them by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
At a final hearing for arguments on Thursday afternoon, attorney Anil Nandlall who is representing the men sought to refute the state’s contention that no basis had been laid by his clients to warrant the charges being withdrawn.
He refuted the position of Solicitor-General (SG) Kim Kyte-Thomas that the sale executed by the two had not been done with prudence or with an appreciation for market value.
Nandlall’s contention is that the applicants were carrying out the mandate of government at the time, which had taken a political decision to have the lands sold.
He said that they were acting on behalf of NICIL. He said it was this entity which authorised the sale and not Singh or Brassington and to this end questioned why the DPP would have singled out just two persons and not charge the entire board of NICIL also.
He said that while one has to be a prudent vendor, assuming but not accepting that his clients were imprudent could not amount to their actions being criminal or that criminal liability should be attached to them.
He said at best one may want to argue that it was a bad political decision to have sold the lands in the manner they were sold but that it could not be the standard of the criminal law that such actions should give rise to criminal liability.
Nandlall argued that the criminal law could not attract sanction for the use of an opinion on a valuation from one person against another. “So how are they charged with misconduct in public office when it was NICIL who sold?” Nandlall asked.
He said that the transaction was standard procedure at the time, given the market value at which the government decided to sell, irrespective of an opinion of one valuation officer. “It is just that, an opinion,” he argued.
Nandlall said that opinions are given all the time in the business transactions and one may be taken above another, but this does not give rise to a criminal act.
The lawyer said that the SG failed to grasp one of the fundamental thrusts of his arguments—that the particulars of the charges levelled against his clients do not amount to the statement of the offence.
On this point, he said that the state has failed to substantiate that his clients benefitted personally from the sale or were dishonest in their dealings with the transactions, which, he reemphasized, were policies being executed by a board on behalf of government.
In previous submissions, Kyte-Thomas had advanced that the sale executed by the two had not been done with prudence or with an appreciation for market value.
She had said that in some instances no valuation had been acquired before the sale and in others, while valuations were acquired, the two nonetheless went ahead and sold the lands far below market value.
She argued vehemently that Singh and Brassington, as public officials, ought to have been prudent in their handling of the affairs of the state as they were holding on trust.
In their application challenging the validity of the charges, the men are seeking to have the DPP’s decision to institute the charges against them reviewed and ultimately quashed.
Singh and Brassington have been jointly charged with three counts of misconduct in public office over the sale of three tracts of government land on the East Coast of Demerara, between December, 2008 and May, 2011. In one instance, it is alleged that the property was sold below market value, while in the other two the deals went ahead without proper valuations of the land.
It is alleged that Singh and Brassington sold a tract of land, being 4.7 acres at Plantation Lilien-daal, East Coast Demerara, which was the property of Guyana, for the sum of $150 million to Scady Business Corporation, while knowing that the property was valued at $340 million by Rodrigues Architects Limited. It is also alleged that by way of agreement of sale and purchase, they acted recklessly when they sold a tract of land, which was a portion of Plantation Liliendaal, Pattensen and Turkeyen, East Coast Demerara, being 103.88 acres, to National Hardware Guyana Limited for $598,659,398 (VAT exclusive), without having a valuation of the property from a competent valuation officer.
It was also alleged that they acted recklessly when they sold a 10-acre tract of land at Plantation Turkeyen, which was the property of Guyana, for the sum of $185,037,000 to Multicinemas Guyana Inc, without procuring a valuation of the said property from a competent valuation officer.
Nandlall is contending that his clients were at all times acting as a part of a collective—Singh as a member of Cabinet, and he and Brassington as members of a Board of Directors. “They were simply carrying out the decision of these two agencies,” he has stressed.