SOCU advisor controversyThe APNU-AFC Coalition Government has come in for another round of scathing criticism from the Parliamentary Opposition over its approach to matters surrounding discussion of corruption.Opposition MP Harry GillLeader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, on Monday took particular umbrage at the Special Organised Crime Unit’s (SOCU’s) advisor, Dr. Sam Sittlington, who in his view conducted the Anti-Corruption Seminar without much substance.“The Opposition members wish to put on public record how disappointed we were with the lack of substance in Dr. Sittlington’s answers to the questions posed and issues raised,” a statement from the Opposition Leader’s Office noted.The Anti-Corruption Seminar was held for Members of Parliament in Parliament Chambers, and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, as moderator, praised Dr. Sittlington, saying, “Guyana was fortunate to have a man of such experience and standing”.However, the Opposition had expected Head of SOCU, Sydney James, other members of the State body, or even observers to be present. However as proceedings continued, it descended into heated moments, as the Prime Minister accused the Parliamentary Opposition of being a “lynch gang” at the seminar and called on Member Harry Gill to retract his statement that “maybe Dr. Sittlington should consider resigning.”“Minister Ramjattan abruptly ended the session with time to spare in the 3-hour allotted time, in order to protect Dr. Sittlington from incisive issues being raised by the Parliamentary Opposition,” the statement outlined.The Opposition party said it had anticipated that frank discussions and exchanges would have been held on ways to address corruption. It, however, said that the session was “nothing but a mere charade, and a fig leaf for the non-engagement of SOCU in dealing with publicly reported acts of corruption, conflict of interest, abuse of power, extortion, etc., by the APNU/AFC Administration.”The Opposition highlighted that during Wednesday’s session, it asked a number of questions, such as the number of money laundering cases that had been successfully prosecuted in recent times, and members further questioned the reasons why SOCU never acted or investigated cases of corruption involving current Government officials. The cases highlighted were the Sussex Street Drug Bond controversy and the Jubilee Durban Park Development project wherein issues relating to beneficial ownership and conflict of interest of public officials were unearthed.The statement recalled Dr. Sittlington as stating that SOCU could act only if there was a complaint to the Commissioner of Police.“If that were the case, how did SOCU on two occasions arrest PPP/C leaders, including the former President, Prime Minister and Ministers; and the Commissioner of Police, on both occasions, publicly stated he was unaware of these actions. Further, Dr. Sittlington stated he arrived on January 2016 and the 30-odd forensic audits had been completed. This in fact was not so, and even Minister Jaipaul Sharma, who was present, looked confused, as he was the one who admitted in the seminar that he had submitted the audits to SOCU and the Police,” the Opposition Leader observed.It was disclosed that People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Members were “advised” that only recently the six-month period for hearing cases in court was lifted, a move which the Opposition deemed “a total misunderstanding” of the AML/CFT Amendment Act 2015. The party even suggested that even the adviser needs to be advised on the law and the judicial system.The Parliamentary Opposition said, too, that it remains committed to ensuring Guyana’s adherence to its constitution and laws, and its international treaties and conventions, such as the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and the UN Convention Against Corruption.“We remain steadfast in our demands for greater transparency and accountability of the executive and all elected officials and civil society stakeholders,” it noted.Members of Parliament (MPs) representing the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) accused the British Fraud Expert and Advisor of turning a blind eye to the many instances of Government corruption. “You have turned a blind eye to reports of corruption right here in the Government,” Harry Gill said. These were references to the controversial Sussex Street drug bond and the construction of the D’Urban Park Stadium. Gill said the fact that Sittlington was employed by the State poses a conflict of interest problem for him to investigate acts of corruption by state agencies.However, the Prime Minister and Ramjattan both defended the UK expert, stating that the Opposition MP came with a motive to disparage Sittlington, and describing them as a “lynching gang with a clear intention.”In his defence, Sittlington advised that SOCU can only investigate matters that are referred to the Police, or cases referred by the Customs Anti-Narcotics Unit, the Financial Intelligence Unit, or the Fraud Squad.Among former Government officials questioned were former Prime Minister and former President, Samuel Hinds; former ministers Priya Manickchand, Irfaan Ali, Clement Rohee, Robert Persaud and Dr Jennifer Westford. One commonality with their questioning was that it was in relation to property purchased at the Sparendaam seawall area on the East Coast that is commonly known as “Pradoville 2”.While the current Administration contends that the transaction is a criminal act because of the belief that the land was sold below market value, the PPP has argued that subsidised housing has always been a part of the legacy of the People’s Progressive Party, and that many Guyanese have benefited from lands sold below market value.