THE Ministry of the Presidency and the Bar Council of Guyana have condemned a fabricated story in the Kaieteur News that one of the recent appointees to the Senior Counsel had been convicted for fraud in Canada.
Headlined on the front page of the Thursday, May 23, 2019 edition the Kaieteur News was: “Attorney convicted of fraud in Canada, appointed Senior Counsel.”
The ministry said the headline and story sought not only to defame an eminently qualified legal luminary, but also to cast aspersions on the judgement and diligence of the Head of State in his appointments of Senior Counsel. Director General of the Ministry, Mr. Joseph Harmon, in an invited comment, said that the article is spurious, libellous and aimed at damaging the reputation of both the President and the newly appointed Senior Counsel.
“The government takes this allegation very seriously because what it seeks to do [and what] it is saying is that on the appointments made by His Excellency that due diligence was not done in that regard. I wish to say a few things: firstly, I personally know Mr. Poonai, S.C., I have worked with him over these years. In fact, when I was President of the Bar Association in 2007 and the years preceding that, I worked with Mr. Poonai in other matters particularly in the land courts of Guyana. So to say that he has been involved in court matters in Canada is quite erroneous. Secondly, I am aware that Mr. Poonai was never admitted to practice law in Canada,” Mr. Harmon said.
The Director General noted that before Mr. Poonai became an attorney-at-law, he worked at the State Planning Secretariat at the Ministry of Finance. Mr. Harmon also noted that in addition to the erroneous information printed about Mr. Poonai, in the last paragraph of the article, the paper also said that the Head of State has made no comment about Mr. Poonai’s alleged criminal past.
The Director General is outraged at this assertion. “The President is a man of integrity and takes seriously his office and the responsibilities therein,” he said. “It is seeking to say that he either didn’t know about it or he knew about it and chose not to speak about it, having spoken so glowingly [at the ceremony] about the way in which Senior Counsel are held in approbation in society and the way in which they are respected, not just for their legal practice, but the merit which they bring to the profession. Apart from dealing with Mr. Poonai’s credibility, it is also seeking to state that the President himself had not exercised due diligence in the performance of his duty in conferring Senior Counsel to these worthy attorneys. [That couldn’t be] further from the truth and the society must take note,” the Director General said. Mr. Harmon is therefore calling on the Kaieteur News to retract its erroneous report and statements, to issue an apology and to publish same with the same prominence with which with it gave to the spurious article.
The Director General is also again, urging media houses to take seriously their responsibility to report accurate information to the public.
Meanwhile, adding its voice to the issue, the Bar Council of the Bar Association of Guyana also condemned “the false, irresponsible and libelous report in Kaieteur News of May 23, 2019.” The council said the article which, without any justification whatsoever, attempts to bring Mr. Rajendra Nath Poonai S.C. into disrepute and lower him in the estimation of right-thinking members of society. “Mr. Rajendra Nath Poonai, S.C. was never convicted of any crime and/or disbarred in Canada as alleged, nor has he ever practiced law in Canada.”