Law Reform Commission almost set up, AG says

-Robb St building rented at $850,000 monthly for office since last December

The Law Reform Commission (LRC) is almost up and running, according to Attorney-General Basil Williams SC, who yesterday disclosed that a building has already been rented and some of its staff has been hired.

This information was circulated at yesterday’s sitting of the National Assembly in a written response by Williams in answer to several questions posed by opposition Member of Parliament Anil Nandlall.

Williams stated that the LRC is in the “final stages of readiness,” while noting that persons have already been interviewed for the positions of Commissio-ners.

He said that no remuneration package has been approved for members of the LRC but he did identify the positions and list the gross monthly salaries of the staff members who have been hired so far.

One legal officer has been hired and is being paid a gross salary of $700,000; two legal clerks are each receiving $150,000; three typists are each receiving $130,000; two office assistants are each receiving $100,000; a driver is receiving $120,000; and a cleaner is receiving $75,000.

The LCR, building, which has been rented from December 1st, last year, is located at Lot 59 Robb Street, Bourda. Based on the rental agreement, which was attached to the written response, the building is owned by Michael and Michelle Wharton, residents of Peter’s Hall, East Bank Demerara. They entered into an agreement with the Government of Guyana, its representative being the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Legal Affairs Delma Nedd, on November 14th, 2017.

According to the agreement, the Whartons, identified as the landlord/s, agreed to allow the government to rent the premises from 1st December, 2017 to 30th November, 2018 inclusive at $850,000 per month. The rent is payable in advance on or before the 5th day of every month.

Additionally, as part of the agreement, the government lodged $1.7 million as a security deposit for any loss or damage to the property and this will be refunded upon completion of the tenancy. The government had also agreed to pay the first two months rent before commencing occupancy of the building as well as to use the location solely as offices and not any “unlawful or immoral” purpose or sublet.

The agreement states that the government will pay all electricity charges, while the landlord will cover the water bill during the life of the tenancy.

The quantum of the monthly rental will likely raise eyebrows.

Legislation to establish the commission was passed more than two years ago.

The commission’s role is the reforming of the country’s legislation, ensuring that it meets international standards.

This independent body is to consist of not less than three or more than seven members who are to be appointed by the President, acting after consultation with the Minister of Legal Affairs.

Coroners

Meanwhile, Williams declined to answer questions about the appointment of coroners to conduct inquests.

Nandlall asked Williams to state how many Coroners were appointed since the enactment of the Coroners (Amendment) Act of 2016, their names, qualifications and dates of appointment as well as their remuneration packages.

In response, Williams informed that such appointments falls within the remit of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as is outlined in Section 3A of the Coroners Act 2015.

On January 14th, 2016 the legislation was passed despite concerns of the opposition that the “cut and paste” bill lacked consultations.

Williams, the mover of the bill, had argued that the amendments would pave the way for inquests into the existing large number of unnatural deaths, for which relatives need answers and closure. The opposition had disagreed with his reasoning, stating that what is needed is a holistic approach.

The bill sought to have the act amended to, among other things, give the JSC the power to appoint “fit and proper persons” as coroners; have at least three in Demerara, two in Berbice and one in Essequibo; have a coroner appointed for the whole of Guyana; and to have every person appointed to that position take and subscribe to the oath of office taken by a magistrate and have all the powers, privileges, rights and jurisdiction of a magistrate and justice of the peace.

Prior to the passage of the amendments, all magistrates were coroners. Coroner’s Inquests were heard by a magistrate presiding in or closest to the area where the unnatural death had occurred.

Nandlall had raised concerns subsequently that no appointments were made despite the passage of the bill and that magistrates were still saddled with the responsibility of conducting inquests.

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