Presidential immunity an issue for constitutional reform process -MInister

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GEORGETOWN, Guyana, Mar 10, CMC – A senior government minister Friday said the issue of presidential immunity will be among matters to be discussed during the constitutional reform process.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon was responding to questions posed by reporters about the claims of being immune from any form of prosecution by former president Bharrat Jagdeo, who was among several former government ministers and officials arrested and or questioned as investigations continue into a controversial multi-million dollar land deal by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Jagdeo told reporters following his release on Tuesday that he had been asked several questions relating to the Pradoville transaction “and I made a short statement because they asked me questions in my official capacity and I have immunities on those and so I refused to answer those questions”.
Under the Guyana Constitution, the “holder of the office of President shall not be personally answerable to any court for the performance of the function of his or her office or for any act done in the performance of those functions and no proceedings, whether criminal or civil, shall be instituted against him or her in his or her personal capacity in respect thereof either during his or her term of office or thereafter.”
But 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”.
He said that despite a level of immunity there are certain exceptions.
“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.”
Harmon made reference to 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.
“We have always taken the view that the article gives immunity to the President whilst he is in office,” he said, adding that 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.
“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 be dealt with by the persons in the arena,” he told reporters.

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