Op-Ed: Constitutional breaches, squander mania continue

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Below is an opinion piece by Attorney-at-Law, Member of Parliament and former Attorney General Mohabir Anil Nandlall.

Over 50 years ago, the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) was created by the Constitution as an independent and autonomous institution. In this institution, the then Constitution resided the exclusive power to institute, take over and discontinue all prosecutions within Guyana.

The pre-independence Constitutions had resided these powers in the office of the Attorney General. The independence Constitution, crafted in Westminster, effected the change. This position obtains today in Guyana and throughout the British Commonwealth.

The removal of prosecutorial functions from the Attorney General’s office and the placement of same in an independent body was one of the mechanisms employed in institutionalising the independence of that office and to insulate it from Executive Government and all forms of interference.

The rationale lies in recognition that the eventuality may arise whereby members of Government may have to be prosecuted and as such, prosecutions ought not to be contaminated with, or influenced by fellow Ministers, politicians or political considerations.

Therefore, whenever the Attorney General or the Government plays any part, whatsoever, in the prosecution of offences, such participation is unlawful and unconstitutional.

It is against this constitutional backdrop that the retention of Special Prosecutors in Guyana must be viewed.

It is undisputed that these Special Prosecutors are handpicked by and paid from the budget of the Attorney General’s office. In fact for the budget of 2018, in the Committee of Supply, the Attorney General proudly announced that approximately $300M is being budgeted by his Ministry for, inter alia, the hiring of private lawyers, including, Special Prosecutors, blissfully oblivious to the constitutional violations he is committing.

The issuance of the legally required fiat to prosecute is perfunctorily done by the DPP upon the instructions of the AG – another unconstitutionality.

Article 187 (4) of the Constitution expressly prohibits the DPP from being directed by any person or authority in the discharge of the functional responsibilities of that office. The, apparent, willing subjugation of this office, to these directions, is a heavy blow to its integrity and impartiality.

That 2 of these Special Prosecutors are operating out of the former law office of the Attorney General while he was in practice and the other 3 have well known connections to the PNC compounds the constitutional incest.

Recently, in response, the AG disclosed in the National Assembly that these Prosecutors are retained at the staggering rate of $2M per head, per case, along with a charge-out rate of $20,000 per hour spent on each case (whether in or out of court).

For most of the cases filed, so far, five Prosecutors are retained per case. This aggregates to $10M plus $100,000 for every hour spent on the case.

Most of these cases require a minimum of over a dozen witnesses to be called. Each of these cases will attract a minimum of approximately 100 billable hours – $100,000 x 100 = $10,000,000 + $10,000,000 = $20,000,000. So, each case will attract a minimum cost of $20M.

You will note that there is no mechanism in place to prevent fabricated billing hours.

Therefore, this arrangement is susceptible to serious abuse.  According to the AG, from 7th June, 2017, twelve of these cases have been filed. The sum of money thus far expended is $240M ($20Mx12).

I have used minimum figures in these computations. I predict that none of these cases would yield a conviction.

In that same sitting of the National Assembly, in answer to questions which I asked, the Minister of Public Health disclosed that as of March, 2018, the Government has already paid $264M as rent for a house in Albouystown to be used as a “drugs bond”.

As of 30th June, 2018, the total rent the Government would have paid will be $306M but yet no drugs have ever been stored in this building. I further enquired of the steps taken to renegotiate a lower rent or terminate the contract as the Government had promised. The Minister’s response almost floored me. I can do no better than reproduce it here:

“The actions taken were a Notice to Quit dated October 31, 2016 by the Permanent Secretary, Trevor Thomas.

A reminder dated October 3, 2017, was sent by the Permanent Secretary, Ms. Colette Adams.”

I apprehend this answer to mean that the Ministry served upon the Landlord a “Notice to quit” the premises by October, 31 2016, but failed to do so. One year later, they reminded the Landlord again they would vacate and again, they have failed to do so.

Significantly, what they have NOT failed to do is dutifully pay the rent every month. I categorise this as insanity not incompetence! The Ministry now says that the contract would be terminated by year end. They said so since 2016. There was no such termination. Six more months of rent will add another $84M. The total rent would be a whopping $390M!

Yet still, to other questions which I posed, the AG disclosed that no Commissioner has been appointed to the Law Reform Commission although millions of dollars have been budgeted for this unit, by this Administration, since 2015.

By a written agreement of Tenancy dated 14th November 2017, the Ministry of Legal Affairs rented the 2nd and 3rd flats (not the 1st flat, which is normally the high rent yielding flat) of a building located at 59 Robb Street, Bourda (the lessor commercial side of Robb Street which ought to attract a lower rent), for the whopping sum of $850,000 per month. As I indicated, there is no Commissioner appointed therefore, the Law Reform Commission cannot be functioning without Commissioners. Yet the following persons are currently employed presumably since November, 2017:

Position Number of Positions Gross Salary
Legal Officer 1 $700,000
Legal Clerk 2 $150,000 (x2)
Typists 3 $130,000(x3)
Office Assistant 2 $100,000(x2)
Cleaner 1 $75,000
Driver 1 $120,000
TOTAL per month   $1,785,000

 

This institution costed taxpayers a total of $12,495,000 in salaries and $5,950,000 in rent, totalling $18,445,000 up to June, 2018, but has done no visible work whatsoever.

In short, these 3 initiatives from 2 Ministries costed taxpayers a total of $648,445,000 ($240M+$390M+$18,445,000), but other than their friends and cronies, not a single benefit trickles down to the ordinary Guyanese (irrespective of race), directly or indirectly.

In fact, they are all expenditures which are absolutely unnecessary. As I said, these are only 3 initiatives.

Multiply the same a thousand times and you get a clear picture of the level of wastage, corruption, graft and nepotism taking place within the bowels of this Government.

The country is simply not earning at a rate to sustain these parasitical excesses. At the same time, monies cannot be found to pay severance to over 4000 sugar workers, lawfully due to them.

To date, the fate and future of these workers and their families remain in flux.

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