Incumbent Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams, SC, has said that a probe has been launched into alleged actions of financial improprieties committed by acting Registrar of Deeds Azeena Baksh after the staff their have called upon his Legal Affairs Ministry to do so.
However, Williams’ predecessor former AG Anil Nandlall has come out in support of Baksh, citing that she is a victim of Williams’ “political and sexist vengeance”.
Williams had released a statement through his Chambers saying that “both the Human Resource and Accounting Departments have complained that as Head of the Budget Agency and sole person in authority to approve and sign off the payroll of the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority and one of the main signatories on the Authority’s Bank Account, the Registrar unlawfully paid herself gratuity well knowing she was a pensionable employee having been appointed by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).”
According to Williams “Registrar Baksh further unlawfully paid herself a higher salary than was approved by the JSC. The Deeds Registry officers have disclosed that these payments started since 2014 and continued up to the present and amount to nearly four and half million dollars ($4.5M).”
Moreover, it was outlined by the Attorney General Chambers that the “Deeds Registry has also laid over with the Ministry of Legal Affairs documents revealing that Registrar Baksh out of revenue due, owing and payable to the Authority in or around the sum of eight million five hundred and forty four thousand dollars ($8,544,000.00), unlawfully waived the sum of seven million and forty four thousand dollars ($7,044,000.00) upon the request of an Attorney-at-Law, who paid only the sum of one million five hundred thousand dollars ($1,500.000.00).”
Nandlall however, is contending that Baksh is just another in a list of professional women who have been the “causalities” of Williams ‘political and sexist agenda’.
The list he noted includes “Sita Ramlall, Solicitor General; Prithima Kissoon, Deputy Solicitor General; Indira Anandjit, Permanent Secretary; Zanna Frank, Assistant Registrar of Deeds; over five (5) female State Counsel and several female secretarial and clerical staff. Azeena Baksh is the latest in the line.”
According to Nandlall, “the intention to remove Azeena Baksh as Registrar of Deeds was expressed by the Attorney General within weeks after he was sworn in. However, and not surprising, he did not know that she was appointed under the Constitution, by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and that he can neither dismiss nor discipline her. He got a similarly rude awakening, when he attempted to remove Zanna Frank from the position of Deputy Registrar of Deeds. Zanna Frank took him to the High Court and the Court ruled against him. He had instructed that her salaries and benefits be withheld. The Court Ordered that she be paid all her benefits and confirmed that the AG cannot remove her from office.”
Nandlall noted that Baksh had lodged a complaint with the JSC against William’s over claims of intimidation and threats of dismissals.
Noting the allegations of financial impropriety against Baksh as incredulous, Nandlall posited that the Deeds and Commercial Registrar Authority (DCRA) was his initiative and it was intended to merge the Deeds and Corporate Registries into a singular autonomous corporate unit, to be managed by a Governing Board. This unit he said was supposed to operate without political interference; be able to raise and manage its own finances and hire and dismiss its own staff.
“There was a long transformation process to transition the existing staff, who were then public servants, into employees of this new unit. Pension rights had to be protected; employees who were prepared to remain in the Public Service were transferred; those who migrated to the unit, did so on conditions that were not less favourable to that which they enjoyed as Public Servants; the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) was consulted.”
“In the end, every employee who migrated to this new unit did so with an increased remuneration package. Each employee continued in their respective position or was promoted. They all became employees of the unit to be paid a remuneration package, which was negotiated with them individually by a consultant who was hired for this purpose. The individual and collective remuneration packages were then approved by the Minister of Legal Affairs, the Ministry of Finance and then by Cabinet. Thereafter, the DCRA executed individual employment contracts with these employees and they were paid the agreed upon remuneration packages” said Nandlall.
According to Nandlall, Azeena Baksh, as Registrar of Deeds, was part of this process. “Whatever remuneration package she enjoys came out of this consultative process. Whatever remuneration package she received previously, was subsumed under this new arrangement.The allegation therefore, that Azeena Baksh paid herself monies is absolute trash. Her remuneration package was duly approved by the authorised agencies and personnel at the time.”
Williams noted however, that the complaints of allegations of financial improprieties were refereed to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) through Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum.