The State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) is unable to carry out many of its anti-corruption initiatives due to the slashing of its 2018 budget by more than 30 percent.
Confirming this recently was SARA’s Deputy Director, Aubrey Heath-Retemyer. He told the Guyana Standard that the budget cut has even affected the extent to which SARA’s investigations can be done. For 2018, SARA received just about $200M. He indicated that a huge chunk of that is allocated for salaries and wages. Also, $15M of the $200M was set aside for equipment and furniture.
The Deputy Director said, “Because of the cuts, we had to cut back on some of the initiatives we had planned since 2016. Some of them were planned so that we can pursue our work at a faster rate such as searches on individuals outside of the country. When you are doing some of these investigations, you have to utilize international search engines. There are companies abroad which are skilled in finding assets anywhere and when using those avenues, a cost is attached.”
Heath-Retemyer continued, “But if you don’t have the money, then you can’t approach those entities. And these people are willing to help us too. I am not saying that whatever we ask for in our budget, the government should supply it. But it must understand and also appreciate that we have been careful in putting together our budget in anticipation of getting back millions of dollars worth of State assets.”
The SARA Director said that the government needs to be prepared to invest significant quantities of cash up front, especially when one considers the extent of the investigation that would be required.
He said, “The government also needs to bear in mind that when people steal these assets, they don’t have them lying around. They change form and even jurisdictions and in that sense, the government should make a conscious effort to try and understand the budgeting needed to track and trace these things. If budget cuts continue, we won’t be able to be as efficient and effective as we need to be.”
SARA’s primary function is the civil recovery of state property obtained through the unlawful conduct of a public official or another person.