-breached Procurement Act
-AG recommends police probe, disciplinary action
By Richard Bhainie
THE former A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) government, through the Attorney General’s Chambers, sole-sourced 71 contracts worth $170.828 million to 26 local and foreign lawyers/law firms on ‘retainer agreements’ for the period of May 2015 to August 2020. This was revealed in a special audit conducted by the Auditor General (AG) Deodat Sharma; the audit was requested by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C. upon his assumption of office in August, 2020.
During the special audit, the Auditor General found that there was no evidence to conclude that these contracts were publicly advertised, which is a direct breach of Sections 25 (1) and 10 (1) of the Procurement Act of 2003. As such, Sharma concluded that the method used to award these contracts was the direct contracting/single-source method. In relation to cases challenging the validity of the December 2018 no-confidence motion, eight contracts were awarded in the sum of $64.464 million to three lawyers/law firms.
Pertaining to the said matter, Courtenay Coye LLP of Belize was awarded five contracts accumulating to the sum of $34 million; Attorneys-at-law Rex Mc Kay, S.C. and Neil Boston, S.C., jointly, were awarded two contracts amounting to $25 million and attorney-at-law Francis Alexis was awarded one contract in the amount of $5M. As regards the cases to which former Speaker of the National Assembly Dr Barton Scotland was a party, four contracts were awarded in the sum of $7 million to attorney Maxwell Edwards and the Robertson Law Firm for legal services and advice.
In the Eslyn David case, which challenged the credibility of the elections recount, two contracts were awarded in the sum of $7 million to two lawyers — one contract, amounting to $5.243 million, was awarded to Justin L. Simon, QC of Antigua, and the other amounting $1.8 M, was awarded to Maxwell Edwards. Attorney-at-Law Roysdale Forde, S.C. was paid $1.5 million in the matter of the Attorney General v Dipcon Engineering; and $1.710 million in the case of Winston Jordan v Juan Anthony Edghill. But in both these cases approval was granted by the National Tender and Procurement Administration (NPTAB) for direct contracting/single sourcing, the special audit revealed.
Amounts totalling $4.317 million were paid to attorneys-at-law, Ralph Thorne, Q.C. and Hal Gallop, Q.C. for legal fees in the matter Zulfikar Mustapha and Attorney General in the High Court. The audit report noted that this payment was not stated in the contract register. Further, attorney Thorne, Q.C. was paid $6.670 million for legal fees in the matter Zulfikar Mustapha and Attorney General heard in Court of Appeal and the Caribbean Court of Justice; the audit report noted that no contract existed for this matter.
Between 2017 and 2019, six contracts amounting to $22 million, were awarded to attorney Patrice Henry for special prosecuting services, of which the sum of $7.7 million is still outstanding. Monies were also spent on other overseas, as well as local attorneys, in a plethora of other matters. Based on the findings of the report, the Auditor General recommended that the Guyana Police Force be called in to conduct an in-depth investigation and institute charges where necessary, as well as appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against culpable officers.
The Auditor General, in his 2019 report, had recently disclosed that Ministry of Legal Affairs and Attorney-General Chambers, under the stewardship of former Attorney-General Basil Williams, spent a total of $99.650M on legal fees/retainer agreements in 2019 on external lawyers. The monies were paid to three law firms and seven external lawyers, despite the ministry having a Solicitor-General, one Deputy Solicitor-General, two Assistant Solicitors-General and six State Counsel in its employ. Subsequent to the AG’s 2019 report, there was a discovery by the Attorney-General’s Chambers that there is no paper trail, including contracts or invoices, to account for some of the external counsel who appeared on behalf of the former AG Chambers in the series of legal proceedings that followed the March 2, 2020 elections.