…AG rubbishes PPP’s claims on out-of-court settlements
ATTORNEY General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, SC. on Wednesday denied that his government has received “kickbacks” from out-of-court settlements since taking office in 2015, saying instead that the administration inherited a dysfunctional AG chambers, where most cases were outsourced and poor records kept.
Speaking during a media conference at his office, Williams said three years ago in what constituted a sea change in governance, the APNU+AFC Government took over from Presidents Ramotar and Jagdeo, a failed and corrupt state that was Guyana. “The inexperienced Anil Nandlall whom even his own Presidents recognised was not qualified to be awarded the dignity of Senior Counsel, had just demitted the office of Attorney General and Ministry of Legal Affairs, having served without distinction. Nandlall left, however, a broken and divided office, characterized by two warring camps, the latter because he had taken from the DPP’s Chambers, a Counsel whom he elevated to the rank of Deputy Solicitor General, paying her a salary over a million dollars a month, with allowances in the AG’s Chambers.”
Williams said, “There is nobody who could take kickback and all of that; not in our government. The matter has to be dealt with by the subject minister and then it has to go to cabinet. We have been saying that repeatedly.”
Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had accused the government of receiving kickbacks as a result of the out-of-court settlements. He contended that had the matters continue in the court, the state could have won them. “By now they would have settled cases that could potentially lead to about $85 billion of liabilities to the treasury. Already we are paying all of that,” Jagdeo told a press conference last week. Jagdeo said that the several out of court settlements were in fact being used as a conduit to pay kickbacks.
However, the AG made it clear that his government has an anti-corruption stance and its operation in all matters has been “accountable and transparent.” “How is it a kickback? To whom? To all the members of the Minister of Communities and his team, the AG Chambers and his team; the whole Cabinet?” he questioned as he made it clear that government’s
decision to settle several court matters out of court is not as a result of sinister intentions. He explained that out-of-court settlements were necessary as many of the cases inherited from the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administration “were incurable”. Among the cases inherited from the former administration are the Rudisha Beverages vs the AG – G$7.2B; NH International L.T.D, Emile Elias vs the AG–US$11M plus G$403M; Toolsie Persaud Ltd vs the AG–G$1.7B; Ministry of Communities vs BK Int.–US$5.7M and the NDIA vs H.Sugrim–G$226.1M.
In the Rudisha case, Williams said the former administration had imposed an environmental tax on non-returnable beverage containers in breach of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas. The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in its ruling said the Government of Guyana, represented by Nandlall, did not lead evidence to show that tax was transferred as was claimed.
In the NH INT, Emile Elias case which concerned a contract to build a road, which ended up at an adjudication which in 2003, the former government allowed to proceed without any representation, leaving Mr. Rex Mc Kay S.C alone to argue NHEE’s case before the Adjudicator.
“Nandlall confounded the problem by appealing the matter to the CCJ through Attorney-at-Law Mr. Roysdale Forde, on a point where the Government had appealed to the wrong Court. The CCJ didn’t take five minutes to dispatch the appeal,” Williams said from a prepared text Wednesday.
Additionally, Williams pointed to the BK INT matter and noted that on assuming office, he was told Nandlall had taken a decision to pay BK $225M for services rendered despite repeated breaches by BK of the Haags Bosch contract. The court had ruled in favour of BK International, who had sued the Government for breach of contract, holding that he was entitled to remain on site. Williams refused to pay that sum and caused an appeal to be filed against that decision. “Due to the site being consumed by smoke which affected neighboring Communities, and IDB wanted BK off, a settlement was agreed between BK and his team, Minister of Communities and his team and AG Williams and his team,” Williams explained. He made it clear that all of the out-of-court settlements received Cabinet’s approval.
Meanwhile, Williams said he relied heavily on the then Solicitor-General (SG) Sita Ramlall and her junior, Prithima Kissoon when he entered office. “In other words, when you appeal a matter, if the issue wasn’t argued below (in the lower court), we couldn’t raise it on appeal. What we found in many cases, you would have the defence stated but it was not argued or asserted before the court.”
The AG said too that when he took office, there was a handing-over engagement between himself and former AG, Anil Nandlall, who failed to hand over several cases which were outsourced. “Why didn’t Mr Nandlall hand over the cases that he has outsourced? Why didn’t he? If he didn’t hand over how can I go and look for cases” that were not mentioned. He reminded that the AG’s Chambers is comprised of the Solicitor-General, her deputy and a battery of lawyers “so if the SG didn’t know about the case, the Chambers didn’t know… [I couldn’t].”
Asked what would have prevented him from delegating his staff from checking the registry at the High Court, Williams said after losing the $446M Dipcon Engineering Limited case in November 2017, notices were sent to several attorneys, asking whether they are working on cases outsourced by the former administration. Lawyers written to included Roysdale Forde, Ashton Chase, Bernard De Santos, SC, Manoj Naryan, Neil Boston, Ralph Ramkarran, SC, Robin Stoby, SC, Sase Gunraj and Nigel Hughes. No response from the lawyers was forthcoming, Williams told reporters.
“After DIPCON surfaced, certain things were done. We wrote individual lawyers,…and then we wrote the court asking the court [Court of Appeal and High Court] to supply list of cases involving the AG,” said Williams, who disclosed that as a result of cases being outsourced without a trace under the former administration, an e-registry is currently being established at his office to the tune of $4M.
He explained that the matter was also placed in the hands of the Guyana Police Force to investigate, while noting that the former AG “has to be questioned by the police as to how many matters he outsourced because we cannot be discovering when judgments are made that these cases exist.”
“We asked lawyers, including the same Ashton Case, and he never disclosed that case. I believe that people need to start being charged now…anyone who continues to proceed with a case not handed over, I would take criminal action against them,” the AG said while declining to explain the grounds to which the charges could be laid. After the $1.7B judgment in the Toolsie Persaud case, Williams said Chase informed his office of the judgment. In his own defence, Williams said there was no system in place at his office indicating which attorneys were dealing with matters involving the state. “Those cases were outsourced without a trace.”