Over $1B approved for Legal Affairs Ministry

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 – Gov’t forced to defend increased allocations

 A scrutiny of the government’s fourth budget, in particular allocations for the Ministry of Legal Affairs, shows that the bureaucracy has gotten more expensive with each passing year. It is a fact that the parliamentary Opposition criticized on Tuesday, as government defended the increases on the grounds of more programmes…and rent.

During the examination of the 2018 budget estimates, the Legal Affairs Ministry came under intense scrutiny. Attorney General Basil Williams was forced to defend the increase of certain provisions when compared to expenses under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government.

When the National Assembly came to programme 523, which is the Attorney General’s  chambers, the parliamentary Opposition also probed the details of contract employees under line item 6116. Line item 6241 was also probed, with former Attorney General Anil Nandlall noting that there has been a progressive increase in the provisions for rental over the years.

Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall and current AG Basil Williams

For budget 2017, the sum allocated for rental of buildings was $5M. This was subsequently revised upwards to $8.4M. In light of the fact that by 2018 this had increased to a sum of $10.2M, Nandlall called for the Minister to explain.

Williams admitted that the monies were for a Robb Street premises that would house the Law Reform Commission. After some back and forth between Nandlall and his successor, Williams finally clarified that the building was being rented for $850,000 per month, for a period of 12 months. There were also provisions for operationalising the Justice Improvement Programme.

The allocation of $305M under the line item ‘other’ was also confronted by Nandlall, who noted the ambiguous nature of the item. According to Williams, the cost relates to paying the legal fees of law students at the Hugh Wooding Law School, expenses for holding consultations for Legal Affairs Ministry and costs associated with Guyana currently holding the chair of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF).

“There’s no discrimination in relation to the students in the Hugh Wooding Law School. Because of the hardships that exist for students who study in Trinidad, the government has decided to contribute some part of their (fees).”

“That is the $18M and that is shared by all the students who graduated… the 25 students. Both the first and second year. So it means then that if you graduated this year, the 25 that were identified would benefit. If someone came out of the programme and are reentering it, they would not benefit because it would be more than 25(grandaunts),” Williams explained.

Williams also explained that monies were allocated to pay for overseas lawyers and special prosecutors. Williams also revealed that $50M would be put aside for overseas lawyers. With regards to special prosecutors, Williams said that funding for this classification could be between $40 and $50M.

With regards to the team of Ministerial Advisors, Williams emphasized that members get a small stipend of $20,000, while the Chairman will be getting $25,000.

The Justice Reform programme, which was catered for under the Capital Expenditure component of the Ministry, was also probed by the former Attorney General. Williams explained that the issue of pretrial detention is addressed. He noted that the provisions include those for a pilot Legal Aid programme. Reminded that a legal aid programme already exists, Williams reiterated that the government is launching a new one.

After much scrutiny, the over $1B in budgeted estimates for the Legal Affairs Ministry, was passed by the National Assembly. This includes $867M for current expenditures and $200M for capital. (Jarryl Bryan)

 

 

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