Lawyers for four dismissed Frostery Development Authority (FDA) managers and a senior surveyor from the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy are fighting to convince Judge Peter Gbeneweleh of Criminal Court “C” to drop the US$6m case against their clients.Judge Gbeneweleh is serving as both the judge and jury, because the defense team chose to wave their rights for a jury.The judge will decide on Wednesday whether or not he will drop the charges against the defendants.Their clients are being tried for their alleged individual roles in the illegal issuing of up to 61 Private Use Permits (PUPs) that authorized commercial logging operations on nearly 2.5 million hectares of farmland in the country when they were serving in their respective positions.They were charged based on the report of a Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB) setup by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to inquire about the issuance of the 61 PUPs by the defendants.The report is vital to the case but this is a claim the accused have denied and are yet to take the witness stand to testify in their own behalf. Their lawyers are petitioning Judge Gbeneweleh not to allow them to testify.Surprisingly, the defense team is pushing this argument after the prosecution had rested with the production of witnesses and documentary evidences.In their argument last Wednesday before Judge Gbeneweleh, a defense lawyer, Cllr. Albert Sim, said prosecutors’ witnesses failed to prove the guilt of the defendants beyond a reasonable doubt.According to a judicial expert, a burden of proof means the prosecutors must present evidence at the trial that proves beyond any doubt that the accused person committed the crimes for which he or she is being tried.The expert further said if the prosecution has not presented any evidence on a necessary fact then the case could be dismissed without the defendants having to put on any evidence, meaning that the defendants can’t take the stand.Further to the argument, Cllr. Sim explained that James Dorbor Jallah, who chaired the Special Independent Investigative Body (SIIB), charged that their clients failed to investigate one of the defendants, David Blayee, former County Surveyor of the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, assigned in Grand Bassa County.Unfortunately, he contended, the Jallah Committee’s final report submitted to President Sirleaf recommended that Blayee be prosecuted along with the other defendants.During his testimony, Jallah admitted that his committee did not investigate Blayee. Instead, he was charged based on interviews they held with residents in those PUP areas.“They did not give him the due process under our law. He was not investigated, but indicted,” Cllr. Sim explained.According to him, the report was selective, which may cause it to lose its credibility.“The report recommended one month suspension for the board of Director of the FDA, Dr. Florence Chenoweth, who is the Minister of Agriculture,” he stated.He also added that Chenoweth was one of those who signed and approved the issuance of the PUPs to most of the logging companies, but unfortunately she is not being prosecuted.”He continued, “They are not schooled in the area of criminal investigation so how do they arrive at the US$6m. It was based on speculation.”Based on these, the defense team asked the court not to allow the defendants to testify, but to drop the case against them. In counter argument, a member of the prosecution team, Atty. Abraham Sillah, contended that they proved their case beyond reasonable doubt.”All of the witnesses we presented testified about each of the defendants’ role in the issuance of the PUPs,” he further argued. He admitted that the Jallah Committee did not investigate David Blayee, because, according to him, when Blayee heard that the group was going to his county for investigation, he fled the area.“We do not even need his investigation before we can indict him, because the committee visited most of the communities where they had issued the PUPs and collected information there, so they did not have to ask him for his side of the story, after he had fled,” Atty. Sillah explained, supporting the Jallah Committee’s decision not to investigating Blayee.According to him, during the investigation, nobody was arrested by the police, but it was after the committee presented its findings to President Sirleaf that she recommended that the defendants be prosecuted.Dismissed FDA Managing Director Moses Diakpo Wogbeh, along with other managers, including a surveyor at the Ministry of Lands, Mines and Energy, are charged with eeconomic sabotage, criminal conspiracy, forgery or counterfeiting obtaining and deceptive writings, obstruction of government by public servant in connection with the much publicized Private Use Permits (PUPs) saga.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
Following Tuesday’s landmark ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), local trade unions have come out urging Government to respect the court’s decisions and for leaders to have consensus going forward.The regional court ruled that the No-Confidence Motion (NCM) was validly passed on December 21, 2018, and also deemed the unilateral appointment of the Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) unconstitutional.Since then, calls have been pouring in from stakeholder bodies for the CCJ decisions to be accepted and respected. Joining these calls on Wednesday were the umbrella trade union bodies which called for consensus to be displayed by the political leaders.The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Guyana (FITUG) noted that the rulings have been finally determined, and now the parties should show maturity and arrive at a consensus on the way forward.In its missive, FITUG viewed the landmark rulings as having provided final answers to important questions which have occupied the national space for many months now.“We were heartened that the CCJ has provided what we felt were clear and unambiguous answers to the questions that were posed. The FITUG, recognising that we have the answers we sought at hand, sees that we need to now put in place the necessary arrangements to address the consequences of the rulings to ensure that there is full compliance with the Constitution of Guyana,” the union body stated.The FITUG recalled previous commitments by the parties to adhere to whatever decisions the court handed down. But noted that now “some quarters” have now sought to import certain conditions to their acceptance, which, the trade union body posited, belie the initial commitment.“We hasten to call on all concerned that the rulings be accepted without the imposition of any condition whatsoever,” the missive stated.Furthermore, FITUG also recognised that the CCJ gave Guyanese leaders an opportunity to arrive at a consensual way forward ahead of Monday’s hearing for consequential orders regarding the rulings.“The FITUG certainly looks forward to this opportunity being fully grasped and maturity, at this time, be displayed as we seek to put Guyana and its people first. In our view, the rulings, which have provided clarity now and in the future as well, represent too, a decisive victory for democracy. The Federation cannot fail to point out that the road to restoration of democracy was long and arduous and one that was paved with the struggles of the Guyanese working people, among others,” the statement noted.Meanwhile, similar sentiments were expressed by the Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC), which called for politicians to put the country first, adding that there should be no delays in arriving at a position that would best serve this country.According to GTUC, the CCJ order requires citizens uniting to hold politicians accountable to a higher political order and love of country- not just power.The trade union umbrella body pointed out that the Government, Opposition and Guyanese society are bound by the rulings of the CCJ and neither party can claim they were denied due process. It noted that this is not a time for triumphalism or an opportunity to create ethnic tension and divisions in society, but to instead rise to the challenge of building a better Guyana.According to GTUC, it is now time for political leaders, supported by all stakeholders, to come together in determining the way forward to provide a better Guyana for all.The GTUC also posited that the parties must appear before the CCJ Judges next Monday with a plan as to how the country would proceed, in the interim and after the elections, consistent with Article 13 of the Guyana Constitution.“It would be unfortunate to have the CCJ imposing on us what we are capable of determining. It would be an insult to our forebears who came together to fight common enemies and build Guyana. It would cast a dark cloud on our ability to unite for the common good and leave us vulnerable to internal and external destabilising influences. The jury is out now on the ability of Guyanese citizens to unite and hold the politicians of this country accountable to a higher order of politics and love of country, not just power,” the GTUC stated in its missive on Wednesday.