The Constitution is very clear on the immunity granted to Presidents, Minister of State Joseph Harmon told the media today, at a post-Cabinet media briefing.
The Minister gave this answer in response to a question posed by reporters about the claims of being immune from any form of prosecution by former President Bharrat Jagdeo. The former President was invited by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) to answer questions about his acquisition of prime real estate lands at prices far below actual market value.
Minister 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.”
Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon.
He added that despite a level of immunity there are certain exceptions. He noted, “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.”
The Minister referenced the recent of impeachment of the first democratically elected President of South Korea who faces several years behind bars if found guilty of criminal charges as a result of a financial scandal.
The Constitution can be looked at in a certain way, Minister Harmon said. “We have always taken the view that the article gives immunity to the President whilst he is in office.” He added that the local situation is unique as, “The expectation of the framers of our constitution was that a President once he leaves office, will basically have a quite more sedate life, but the situation in Guyana is totally different. They have people who have been presidents and now they are now in the National Assembly. How could you now claim those immunities while you are actively engaged in day to day politics?”
He referred to the almost weekly letters written in the media by another former president who calls for various issues to be dealt with. He said, “Usually a former president is given a certain level of courtesy, but if in fact by their actions after they leave office, they descend into the arena, then I would say that they would have to dealt with by the persons in the arena.”
Former President Jagdeo, former ministers and several close associates of the former Government have been the focus of a SOCU investigation into their acquisition of several acres of prime real estate at Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara. These purchases were done at prices far below market rates and included the provision of various amenities such as drainage and electricity supplies.