Funds for legal aid in Linden were provided under the GOG/UNICEF country programme

Dear Editor,

I saw an article in the Kaieteur News edition of March 26, 2012 titled ‘Govt. chided for not funding legal aid in Linden.’

The article reported that the President of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, (GAWL) Ms Emily Dodson made her remarks at a symposium held by the women’s arm of the People‘s National Congress Reform (PNCR). The article went on to say that the “President of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, Emily Dodson, is appealing to Members of Parliament to ensure Region 10 residents are provided with adequate legal aid services so that the people of Linden would not be treated as stepchildren of this country,” and that “for whatever reason Government has not funded legal aid in Linden”; further, the said President “enlightened that she recently met with the Leader of the Opposition, David Granger and discussed this issue.”

I find these disclosures that were published extremely interesting. As a member of GAWL and as the Minister who was responsible for the expansion of legal aid services, I feel duty bound to address two issues arising out of these statements.

Firstly, has the role and mandate of my organization the GAWL changed and is the GAWL now engaged in openly supporting/aligning itself to a political party, to wit, the PNC/APNU, and, secondly, the reality of the provision of legal aid services in Region 10.

Editor, while, from the article, it is easy to form the impression that Ms Dodson spoke in her capacity as President of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, on closer perusal, the article is not pellucid if the goodly Ms Dodson was actually speaking in her capacity as President or if she was speaking as a member of the PNCR or a sympathizer of the said party.

As a member of GAWL, I know I did not authorize Ms Dodson to make those wild, ill informed and highly political statements. I have also spoken to several other members of the GAWL who confirm that they too did not authorize the President and/or the Association to make the pronouncements attributed to Ms Dodson which have not  been retracted.

I am curious if, unbeknownst to me and in the absence of the relevant procedures and resolutions, the role and mandate of GAWL has changed, and in pursuit of said curiosity and for some clarity, I call on the executive of the GAWL to either adopt the statements made by Ms Dodson or forthwith distance the Association from the said statements.

On the issue of the provision of legal aid to Region 10, Ms Dodson’s statements raise two issues which reflect either deliberate wickedness or hopeless ignorance. Ms Dodson claims firstly that the Government of Guyana has not funded legal aid in Linden “for whatever reason,” and that there is no adequate legal aid service in Linden and has concluded politically that the people of Linden are being treated as stepchildren. I, as would any reasonable person, interpret Ms Dodson’s words as accusing the GOG of discrimination against the people of Region 10.

Following are the facts as they relate to the establishment of the Linden Legal Aid Clinic (LLAC).

1. From 1993 to about 2008, the sole legal aid provider in the country was the Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic (GLAC) which provided resident services in Georgetown and its immediate environs and from about 2006 to 2008, non-resident service in Region 10. These were the only two regions benefiting from legal aid services offered by the GLAC.

2. The PPP/C in its manifesto of 2006 promised to expand legal aid services. Notably the PNCR did not even address this important service in their manifesto.

3. The GOG engaged the GLAC in an earnest effort to expand said legal aid services. An agreement was reached that GOG would provide the funding and GLAC would provide the services to Regions 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 10.

4. The said manifesto promise was fulfilled with resident legal aid services being launched in Region 2 on the 14th day of June 2008 and in Region 6 on the 10th day of October 2008. On the 27th day of June 2008, Region 5 began to receive the same type of service Region 10 had been receiving since about 2006, that is, non-resident service. The intention was to graduate to provide resident services in all regions.

5. In or around June 2008 after the budgetary allocation had been made to GLAC I was approached by Mrs Joan Ward-Mars and Mr Fitz Peters, both attorneys-at law representing LLAC. I did not know Joan Ward-Mars but I liked her immediately. Mr Fitz Peters I knew, liked and respected. The lawyers made their interest in operating LLAC known to me and asked for funding from the amount allocated to GLAC. I explained that I could not reallocate funds appropriated in the National Budget as that would amount to misappropriation. At that time LLAC, I was told, was being funded by USAID/GDCCR and I was further told that said funding would end by August 2008. I arranged and hosted a meeting in June 2008 with said Joan Ward-Mars and Fitz Peters of LLAC and Josephine Whitehead and Jolyon Hatmin both of GLAC, and asked that GLAC work with the said LLAC members to provide service to the people of Region 10. At this time GLAC was already providing service to Region 10 and all parties agreed that it made no sense to have two service providers in the same location. I am aware that GLAC, in keeping with their own established standards, asked for particular accounting and other procedures to be followed.

6. I am also aware that LLAC were actually adamant that they wanted to be independent of the GLAC and resisted every effort to come under the umbrella of GLAC, which incidentally is the efficient legal aid provider for every other region that has legal aid. Because I generally do not care who provides the service, once the service is provided, and because I believed the members of LLAC to be good people and genuinely interested in providing service, and because there seemed to be great delay in LLAC working with GLAC and because it didn’t make sense to have two service providers in Region 10, I advocated at UNICEF and recommended that funding be provided from the country’s funds to LLAC. Said funding was provided from August 2008 and continues up till now.  Consequentially, on the 19th day of June 2009 LLAC was launched and said launch was fully funded by the GOG in the same manner as the launch of every other clinic hereinbefore mentioned.

7. Based on the 2002 census Region 2 has an approximate population of 49,254 Region 6 an approximate population of 123,694 and Region 10 an approximate population of 41,114.

8. In 2009, GLAC spent approximately $5,119,873 on managing and operating legal aid in Region 2 and $4,517,481 on managing and operating legal aid in Region 6. From August 2008-August 2009 LLAC was granted the sum of $6,764,440 to manage and operate legal aid in Region 10.

9. In 2010, GLAC spent approximately $6,332,516 on managing and operating legal aid in Region 2 and $5,736,835 on managing and operating legal aid in Region 6. From December 2009-December 2010 LLAC was granted the sum of $6,000,000 to manage and operate legal aid in Region 10.

10. In 2011, GLAC spent approximately $5,326,607 on managing and operating legal aid in Region 2 and $5,170,319 on managing and operating legal aid in Region 6. From April 2011-December 2012 LLAC was granted the sum of $9,060,070 to manage and operate legal aid in Region 10. This sum was already handed over and is in the possession of LLAC

The above is the indisputably factual account of the relations between the GOG, the GLAC and the LLAC.

I wish to point out that the claim both by the President of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, Ms Dodson, and the LLAC’s website that “The LLAC has never received financial assistance from the Government of Guyana” has no basis in reality and in common parlance is just a downright lie. The fact is that the GOG provided funding for LLAC through the GOG/UNICEF country programme. Had the GOG not advocated for and approved the expenditure on LLAC by UNICEF, funds for the LLAC would never have been disbursed under the GOG/UNICEF country programme. The GOG has repeatedly approved said expenditure. Without said approval the money could not have been granted to or spent by LLAC. Given that I have explained this repeatedly to various members of the LLAC Board, and that I have even said same from the floor of the National Assembly, I find it extremely hard to believe these statements were simply made in ignorance.

As it relates to Ms Dodson’s assertion that the amount given to LLAC is inadequate, in my own view (which is extremely partial, and publicly so, to the provision of legal aid service), no amount will be enough or “adequate” for the various kinds of service legal aid centres could possibly provide. However, I wish to point out that as a matter of fact, by way of comparison, Region 10 has a smaller population than Region 2 and Region 10 has a smaller population than Region 6, yet LLAC was given more money than GLAC was given and spent in Region 2 and more money than GLAC was given and spent for Region 6 in the years 2009, 2010 and 2011.

It seems to me that it may therefore be necessary for the LLAC to review their service to the residents of Region 10 if after all of this expenditure which amounts to more than what Region 2 or Region 6 gets and spends that the President of GAWL still finds it necessary to call on “Members of Parliament to ensure Region 10 residents are provided with adequate legal aid services.” It may well be the providers of the service that have to be examined. I understand that Ms Dodson works at or for or with LLAC.

Editor, given the abovementioned facts, almost all of which can be found on the worldwide web, I leave it up to your readers and the Guyanese people to determine whether the claims by the GAWL President are true or if said statements are ill informed, politically motivated and/or wicked.  Indeed, it is clear that if there is discrimination in relation to the provision of legal aid services to the people of Region 10 then it is discrimination in favour of and to the benefit of our Region 10 people.

Yours faithfully,
Priya Manickchand

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