Legal Affairs finance chief in pickle

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Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams

…allegedly refuses to pay fees for law students studying in TT
…PS writes PSC requesting disciplinary actions

THE Ministry of Legal Affairs’ Principal Assistant Secretary (Finance), Simone Allen has failed to pay the 25 per cent economic costs for more than 50 Guyanese students attending the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago, citing a lack of approval.

But in response to this major infraction, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary (ag) Tamika Barkoye has requested that disciplinary action be taken against Allen. In a Memorandum dispatched to the Public Service Commission (PSC) on August 9, 2019, the Permanent Secretary explained that since 2016, the Government of Guyana granted approval for the payment of 25 per cent of the economic costs for Guyanese students at the Hugh Wooding Law School; however, Allen, without reasonable cause, failed to abide by this decision.

“As a result of the failure of the Principal Assistant Secretary (Finance) to effectively monitor and control the expenditure accounts, a burden was placed on the students (approximately 50 students) to bear that cost. The actions of the aforementioned officer are tantamount to offences of negligence and failure to discharge the duties of post,” the Permanent Secretary said in her letter to the PSC.

It was only during a meeting of the Finance Department on August 8, 2019 that it was revealed that the 25 per cent economic costs was not paid for the academic year 2018-2019 for the Guyanese students attending the Hugh Wooding Law School. The Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, who was present at the meeting along with the Deputy Permanent Secretary, Principal Assistant Secretary (General) and the Principal Assistant Secretary (Finance), has since expressed his lack of confidence in Allen.

“In light of the foregoing, the Honourable Attorney General has expressed his no confidence in Ms. Simone Allen’s ability to execute the duties and functions of the office of the Principal Assistant Secretary (Finance) and has recommended that Ms Allen be sent on Administrative leave to facilitate an investigation,” Barkoye told the PSC.

The Permanent Secretary, therefore, sought the PSC’s approval to send Allen on administrative leave to facilitate the investigation. That decision is pending.

Allen’s failure to facilitate the payment of 25 per cent of the economic costs comes at a time when the Guyanese students continue to face challenges attending the Hugh Wooding Law School. Guyanese law students are required to pay approximately $98,000TT or GUY$3M per year in tuition fees to attend the Hugh Wooding Law School.

Added to that, only the country’s top 25 law students are permitted entry into the Hugh Wooding Law School by an agreement established by the Council of Legal Education.

To ease the financial burdens and to provide another avenue for legal education, the Attorney General, since taking office, has proposed the establishment of the JOF Haynes Law School but that has been met with stumbling blocks. The Council of Legal Education (CLE) has indicated that the feasibility study submitted on the school is not in compliance with the treaty that established the CLE. In 2018, it said the CLE does not provide for third parties, and the modeled proposed by the Guyanese Government was by way of a Public Private Partnership with Law School of the Americas (LCA) and the University College of the Caribbean (UCC).

However, the February 2018 Final Report on the Survey of Legal Education in CARICOM Member States, which was conducted by the Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean (IMPACT Justice) and funded by the Canadian Government, underscored the need for Guyana to have its own law school.

In that report, it was recommended that law schools should be established as part of Utech in Jamaica, UG in Guyana and possibly in Antigua and Barbuda.

According to the report, the establishment of additional regional law schools in the three jurisdictions under the CLE would provide an easy mechanism for addressing the unsatisfied demand for access to practice law by the many persons who are holders of non-University of the West Indies (UWI) LLB degrees.

The Attorney General, in support of his vision of have a law school here, had reminded the CLE that there are legal provisions that allow for the establishment of additional law schools to complement the Hugh Wooding Law School and the Norman Manley Law School.
“By virtue of Article 1 Paragraph 3 (B) of the Agreement establishing the CLE, it is inter alia empowered to establish, equip and maintain Law Schools, one in Jamaica, one in Trinidad and Tobago and in such other territories as the Council may from time to time determine, for the purpose of providing postgraduate professional legal training,” Minister Williams had pointed out.
He said with Guyana on the verge of becoming a major oil and gas producing nation, it is even more important now than ever that a law school be established here.

“We obviously have to be able to train lawyers in this area. We have to get ownership of the industry, of the sector. We have gas also, and we also have a green state strategy dealing with the environment, and these are all new areas that we have to train lawyers,” the Minister had explained. On the basis that approval was granted for the school to be established, the Attorney General in 2017 announced the launch of the project for establishment of the JOF Haynes Law School – a move which was welcomed by both practice and aspiring lawyers but the project has been stalled since September 2018 while students continue to face the financial burden.