‘Squandermania at its best’ – Nandlall says of APNU/AFC’s handling of US$8M justice reform project

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Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, on Friday, blasted the previous APNU/AFC administration for “squandering” millions of dollars on various projects without any evidence to show that they brought benefits to the country.

Nandlall, during his contribution to Budget 2020 pointed to the US$8M Inter-American Development Bank-funded support programme for the Criminal Justice System in 2017 which he alleged was kept under wraps as neither the Opposition in the Parliament, important stakeholders in society, nor the ordinary Guyanese knew what it was.

According to Nandlall, a staggering US$2M of the sum was spent already from this programme, largely for the payment of expenditures, including salaries and wages, rental and costs associated with accommodation.

He explained that a Bill came to House in 2017, to establish a Law Reform Commission under this project, but three years after “not a single Commissioner was appointed but the rental, payment of staff and other costs for this phantom Commission total approximately $98.3M.”

“This is squandermania at its best,” he asserted.

Nandlall, however, told the National Assembly that aspects of the project are under review. He said adjustments are likely to be made and the project will be fully implemented.

On this basis, he disclosed that the Law Reform Commission Act will be amended to make the Commission broad-based.

He explained that currently, under the Act, the Minister and the President can appoint the entire Commission without any consultation.

Nandlall posited that the amendments will ensure appointments are made from nominees from the Private Sector Commission, the labour movement, the religious organisations, the legal profession and organisations representing rights and consumer protection.

He further noted that a Government building has already been secured to house the Commission free of cost, saving taxpayers’, immediately, $850,000 per month, “which was squandered as rent for the past 3 years”.

Nandlall further pointed to the hiring of Special Prosecutors and retaining of lawyers, both locally and across the Caribbean, to represent the Government as well as private individuals, in a series of political litigation, all of which, he said, were “completely without merit and were eventually lost”.

“Dozens of invoices cannot be found for lawyers retained during the melee of madness, the five months from March to August 2020, when a series of disgraceful and useless cases were filed in an effort to get the Judiciary to conspire with the rigging cabal at Congress Place, to pervert democracy,” he explained.

The AG told the National Assembly that a Special Audit is currently being undertaken by the Auditor General’s Office, in relation to these expenditures, but from the invoices that were found, the Attorney General’s Chambers paid a staggering $146,099,180 from 2017 to 2020, to private lawyers.

“This carnage of taxpayers’ dollars will be halted under this Administration,” he affirmed.

Turning his attention to SARA, Nandlall said this agency has not recovered a single piece of State asset since its formation four years ago.

“It is illegally constituted, with the Director and Deputy Director not been appointed by this Honourable House, as mandated by the SARA Act. Yet these two Officers were allowed to draw salaries at a rate of $1M and $700,000 GYD, respectively per month, with gratuity and benefits for the past 4 years”.

Nandlall said moves will be made to remove “this humongous burden from the backs of taxpayers’ by shutting down this Unit, shortly,” noting that some of the staff will be absorbed by various agencies of the State.

Nandlall assured that with renewed visionary leadership, “this Ministry has already reoriented itself on a new course and has a packed legislative agenda, which will begin to unfold just after the budget debates are concluded”.

He said many new initiatives will be implemented in collaboration with the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority, which will modernize and bring greater efficiency to the functioning of this agency.

Important measures, he added, will be implemented in collaboration with the Judiciary that will produce greater speed in the judicial system. This will include additional Judges appointed under a new Judicial Service Commission, soon to be appointed.

Nandlall explained that Guyana’s AML/CFT structure will remain under constant review, saying that focus will be directed to the area of enforcement.

“In this regard, the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) will be transformed from a political witch-hunting unit to the investigative and enforcement arm of the AML/CFT structure,” he noted.

He further told the House that the US$8M IDB Support Justice Programme is being adjusted in collaboration with the Bank and from which many initiatives will flow. These include: the launch of a new programme at the University of Guyana to train LLB graduates, as well as Police, and to place them as Prosecutors in the Magistrate’s Court right across Guyana.