Scandal: Comptroller slapped with Freedom of Information request

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Room to manoeuvre appears to be shrinking for Raju Boddu, Comptroller of Customs and others with official knowledge of the Michael Freeland auction scandal but, who have until now, ignored resisted or rebuked enquiries into its details.
The main opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) has dispatched two freedom of information requests on the scandal, the first to Boddu, and the second to Sean Cenac, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.
By law, the two officials are now required to provide Shawn Nicholas, the party’s General Secretary and the person in whose name the requests were made, with the records and documentation containing the information requested.
Asked for comment, Gisele Isaac, Chairman of the UPP explained the party’s move, saying that “the public has a right to know” the full details of the affair and that the Comptroller, as far as the party was concerned, had for too long been unforthcoming.
The party has asked both the Comptroller and the Permanent Secretary for the exact date and time at which Michael Freeland failed to surrender the auction proceeds of $119,866.50 to the Customs and Excise Division; what immediate action was taken; what were the terms and conditions of the repayment of the sum in 2018 by Freeland and; who authorised such action?
The requests were made by letters, which according to a January 16 release from UPP Public Relations Officer, Senator Damani Tabor, were delivered on the 10th.
Isaac has said that “a crime may have been committed” but the actions of the comptroller as well as other officials who have remained silent on the scandal have made it impossible for the public to know whether or not this is the case.
Whether or not former Senator Michael Freeland, at the heart of the scandal, committed a crime is a question which the government’s chief legal advisor, Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, the attorney general, has avoided answering on two occasions.
The facts not in contest by any official source including Gaston Browne, prime minister and minister off finance; Lennox Weston, minister of state in the Ministry of Finance, and the comptroller of customs, is that Freeland took possession of $119,866.50 of state money in late 2016 and simply failed to give it to the government when called upon.
Freeland was an auctioneer at the Customs and Excise Division at the time, legally reporting to, and acting under the authority of the comptroller. The sum, quoted by Boddu, was reportedly proceeds of an auction and following the auction, and contrary to the Customs (Control and Management) Act 2013, those proceeds, last in Freeland’s possession, were not surrendered to the state.
The Freedom of Information Act No. 19 of 2004 was enacted to promote “maximum disclosure of information in the public interest” and gives every person the right, upon request to access information form the government, its agencies, departments statutory corporations and even companies in which it has an interest.
When a request is received the relevant public body is obligated to indicate whether or not it holds the records requested. It must also respond “as soon as practicable and in any event within twenty working days of receipt.”
There are exceptions that allow a body to refuse to give information or to indicate whether or not it hold records containing the requested information but these exceptions relate mainly to prejudicing efforts in the detection or prevention of crime, harming national security interests, or revealing matters that are before the Cabinet.

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