Former Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall on Thursday criticised the allocation in the 2018 budget for the Ministry of Legal Affairs for the payment of special prosecutors and expressed belief that these monies are part of a discretionary fund that could be used for various purposes.
Nandlall maintained that the AG Chambers has no role in the prosecution of criminal matters and more so that the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which is the proper authority to do so was allocated $274M for 2018.
During an interview last month, Nandlall, a PPP/C MP argued that the retention of six attorneys by the government to prosecute a number of high profile cases is unconstitutional. In the 2017 budget $100 million was included in the AG Chambers/ Ministry of Legal Affairs’ budget for the hiring of these persons.
In a statement on Thursday, Nandlall said that under the rubric `other’ of the Ministry of Legal Affairs’ budget, Attorney General Basil Williams (has been allocated) the “staggering sum of $305 million dollars. This is unprecedented”, he said. He did not state specifically how much of this money was set aside for the special prosecutors.
He recalled that under questioning this week from him, in Parliament’s Committee of Supply, Williams said that this sum is to pay legal fees for lawyers he intends to retain and Special Prosecutors he intends to hire, for him to function as the Chairman of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) and subsidise the economic costs of students at the Hugh Wooding Law School.
“I feel compelled to make a few things clear to taxpayers … (1) The AG has a Staff of Lawyers under his supervision at the Chambers who are already paid by the State. (2) Unlike any other AG in the history of Guyana, he has 3 former Justices and 2 Professors as his Advisers. (3) While AG’s in the past retained external counsel this was done in exceptional cases or when there are shortages of staff at the AG Chambers; the Staff at present appear to be at its full complement or close to it. (4) Prosecution of criminal matters is sole and exclusive responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions or those authorized by her, by virtue of the Constitution. (5) The AG has no role in the Prosecution of criminal offences. (6) the entire DPP budget is merely $274 million. (7) the Chairmanship of CFATF is a rotational post shared among Member States. It is simply Guyana’s turn now. The expenses in relation to this post are fully paid for by the permanent secretariat of this organization located in Port of Spain. (8)$18 million to subsidize our students at the HWLSchool appears to be the only justifiable expenditure under this head”, he said.
According to Nandlall, having regard to the foregoing, the question which must be asked is “if we have to spend such humongous sums of money to pay external counsel, why don’t we close down the AG and the DPP Chambers?”
“The truth is that most of this $305 million would become a reservoir for corruption, nepotism and persecution…”, he said.
In July last year, the government had announced that it was awaiting advice on the feasibility of setting up a Special Prosecutors’ Office to handle high-profile cases. Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira had voiced concern about the move, saying that it will be yet “another attempt to witch-hunt political opponents.”
In January this year, the DPP issued fiats to attorneys Michael Somersall, Hewley Griffith, Lawrence Harris, Patrice Henry, Compton Richardson, and Trenton Lake. Their hiring by government was in keeping with the establishment of a Special Prosecutors’ Office.
Nandlall said that he was dissatisfied with the answer given last year while stressing that the AG has no authority over the prosecutorial arm of the state. “That is the responsibility of the Director of Public Prosecutions, an independent office because the Attorney General himself can be prosecuted,” he said.
Nandlall had noted that while the decision shows that government has no confidence in the ability of the DPP to prosecute such serious matters, the DPP is nonetheless the sole, exclusive and constitutional authority vested with the responsibility of prosecuting criminal offences in Guyana. In the discharge of those functions, the DPP is not subject to the direction or control of any person or authority, as is outlined in the Constitution, he had said
“They cannot rely on the DPP because they cannot give the DPP’s office the directions, which they wish to. So, what they have done instead is to create a band of special prosecutors comprising of persons hand-picked, all of whom are close to the administration,” he had opined while accusing the government of undertaking politically-driven prosecutions.
Nandlall had maintained that the AG has no role in the prosecution of criminal offences, simply because that responsibility is vested by the constitution in the DPP. “The rationale is that an entire government can also be prosecuted and that is why the office of the DPP provides an oversight function and it has the authority to prosecute the entire government and that is why prosecutorial responsibilities are not part of the executive function but are part of the functional responsibilities of an independent constitutional office,” he had explained.
Nandlall had stressed that the constitutional doctrine has now been “contaminated, undermined and violated” by the executive selecting “close allies” to prosecute offences that originate from forensic audit reports done by forensic auditors handpicked by the administration and investigated by the Special Organised Crime Unit.
Williams on the other hand has expressed satisfaction with the work that the attorneys are doing and had said that while they are working there is still lots more to be done.