Faced with a lawsuit over its abrupt withdrawal of the $8 million monthly subvention to the International Decade for People of African Descent Assembly – Guyana (IDPADA-G), Attorney General Anil Nandlall has disclosed that the Government is having discussions with the Afro-Guyanese organisation’s lawyer with the view of reaching an amicable settlement.
He communicated this position to acting Chief Justice Roxane George when the matter came up for report last week at the Demerara High Court. At a previous court hearing, Justice George had described the dispute over the monies as a national embarrassment and had urged the parties to consider mediation.
Apart from asking the High Court to reinstate its subvention, the IDPADA-G, in its claim, is also seeking an award for damages against the Government.
During a recent hearing, Nandlall informed the court that he has responded to letters from IDPADA-G’s lawyer, Nigel Hughes, concerning negotiations to have the matter settled outside of the court process.
“I am prepared to pursue that. I have received certain instructions from the Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Charles Ramson which I would like an opportunity to convey to Mr Hughes and his client. And I believe it should go a far way in bringing this matter to a resolution,” Nandlall disclosed. “I am very glad to hear,” responded the Chief Justice. As such, Justice George said that she will give the parties more time to engage in discussions.
She, however, cautioned the parties about speaking about the matter in the press, while noting that she was not inclined to issue a gag order since she wished to rely on their “good faith”. Reacting to the recent developments in the matter, Justice George noted, “I think something positive has been reported and I would hope that such positivity continues in the interest of all and in the interest of the image of our beloved county.”
For his part, Hughes had proposed the matter go to mediation. But this was shut down by the Attorney General who expressed that, like the Chief Justice, he agrees the matter should be pursued without third-party intervention. “The parties are sufficiently circumstanced to see the reasonableness of both sides and bring this matter to an end. That is my honest view,” Nandlall said. While Nandlall may have proposals, he believes may find favour, Hughes pointed out that in the event this does not work, court-ordered mediation should be the next option.
According to Justice George, mediation will be “put on the table” as part of the discussions. The matter is scheduled for another report hearing on Friday, March 24.
In defending the Government’s decision to withdraw the organisation’s grant, Minister Ramson, in court documents, has averred that he has been informed by numerous persons and organisations, and believes that although they are qualified for assistance from the subvention disbursed to IDPADA-G, they were wrongly excluded and deprived of benefitting from it.
In light of this, Minister Ramson said that he requested the IDPADA-G to provide detailed records of how the subventions have thus far been applied. In reply, he said, the organisation’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Olive Sampson gave the Financial Statements for 2018, 2019, and 2020.
“These Financial Statements provided by the Applicant [IDPADA-G] reflected not only subvention monies, but included all income and expenditure of the Applicant, and further, did not set out a detailed report of expenditure from the subvention, as specifically requested. However, an examination of the same, in my respectful opinion, corroborated and supported the disaffection and concerns expressed by the persons and organisations who complained to me.”
According to him, in 2018, the organisation received a subvention of $68,438,000; in 2019, $100,000,000; in 2020, $107,223,607; in 2021, $100,000,000; and as of August 2022, $66,666,672. The Minister informed that $100M has been set aside in the 2023 National Budget to support the activities associated with the observance of the IDPADA-G.
Under Sections 48 and 49 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act, and at common law, Minister Ramson noted that he has a statutory duty to ensure that public monies are not in any manner misused, misapplied, or improperly disposed of; shall be personally liable in the event of any such public monies being misused, misapplied or improperly disposed of through misconduct or deliberate or serious disregard of reasonable standards of care; and can be liable to be charged criminally for the same and similar reasons.
“The glaring reality is that in every year (2018, 2019, 2020), the highest expenditure of the subvention went towards salaries, wages, and allowances, whilst training and scholarships received the lowest allotment in every corresponding year,” noted Minister Ramson as he further examined the organisation’s financial statements. Considering this, he contended, the IDPADA—G’s use and expenditure of the subvention was grossly disproportionate to the purpose and objectives of its mandate, as set out in its Articles of Incorporation and its Charter.
Having taken into account the complaints and concerns highlighted by stakeholder organisations and persons, and given the public interest, the Culture, Youth, and Sport Minister added, “I considered that I would be in breach of my fiduciary and statutory duties were I to make further disbursements of subventions to the [IDPADA-G], pending the resolution of those concerns.”
The IDPADA-G, which is chaired by Opposition-nominated Guyana Elections Commissioner (GECOM) Vincent Alexander, is ultimately seeking a court order to have its subvention reinstated.
According to the organisation, there is a legitimate expectation, given the money was granted by the Government based on an undertaking in the form of an annual subvention paid monthly.
It has noted that the Government has committed itself to an annual subvention, which began under the A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) Administration.
By withholding the monies, the IDPADA-G has argued that the Government has broken its legitimate expectation, therefore the organisation is entitled to the intervention of the court on the violation of this legitimate expectation. It has argued further that the withdrawal of the subvention is a breach of contract; that the withdrawal is an abuse of power; is unlawful and without basis; and that it was not given notice of the withdrawal, nor was it allowed by the Government to be heard regarding changing the decision.
Moreover, the IDPADA-G has contended that it is entitled to damages. Minister Ramson, Minister Nandlall, and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh are listed as the respondents in the organisation’s lawsuit. The organisation was birthed out of representations made by former President David Granger on August 7, 2016, at a symposium organised by the Cuffy 250 Committee.