By Rehana Ahamad
AMENDMENTS to the Law Reform Commission Act of 2016 were passed in the National Assembly on Thursday. In proposing the 2020 amendment bill, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, said that the Act needed to be amended to allow for the a diversity of qualifications on the commission.
“In addition to legally trained persons, [the commission] must also have persons trained in social sciences, in the natural sciences, in economics, and commerce and in law enforcement,” Nandlall noted. He further explained that, as part of its mandates, the commission will be required to draft and/or recommend laws to cater to various sectoral needs and interests, and that such will require expertise outside of just law.
“Scientific research may have to be done; social surveys conducted; economic and commercial activities examined to inform legislative policies and law reform itself, Hence the need to expand qualifications,” Nandlall noted.
He said that even though the 2016 Law Reform Commission Act was a commendable initiative by the previous A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Government, it had become mired in a series of questionable undertakings.
“While in the opposition we were vehemently critical of the appointment process and manner in which the commission was constituted, and we expressed those sentiments to the bill in the  debates,” the Attorney-General noted.
He lamented the fact that several persons were employed by the Commission, without any commissioner being appointed. Nandlall informed the House that since its establishment, the non-functioning commission has cost the country in excess of $100 million.
“[During] 2017, 2018 and 2019, huge sums were budgeted for, including $800,000 rent monthly,” Nandlall posited. He said too that 10 clerical staff were appointed and paid exorbitant amounts of monies.
“When we examined credentials of the staff, one person who only has an LLB [Bachelor of Laws degree] was hired and paid a whopping sum of $750,000 when compared to a fully-trained attorney-at-law attached to the AG’s chambers, who work for less than $300, 000,” the minister highlighted to the house.
He said that instead of terminating the employment of those persons, a decision was taken to “employ all of them, as clerks within the ministry, and of course, adjusting their salaries and bring them in conformity and consistency with the range of employment enjoyed by persons of that status”.
“This constitutes once again, another manifestation of a colossal waste of taxpayers’ dollars, characterising the APNU+AFC style of governance,” the AG surmised.
He said that shortly after the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) assumed office in August 2020, an immediate decision was also taken to terminate the rental of the building, along with all the utilities.
Nandlall told the National Assembly that the Law Reform Commission could not have been instituted during the PPP/C’s previous tenure, since this was dependent on the outcome of a law revision which commenced in the 1970s; an updated revision was later pursued and was only completed in 2012. The PPP/C was eventually voted out of office in 2015, before the initial bill could have been brought to the National Assembly.
It was the Coalition Government that presented the bill to establish the commission. As Thursday’s amendments were being proposed, the main Opposition Members of Parliament were not in the chambers of the Arthur Chung Conference Centre. The Coalition’s Chief Whip was outside tending to a protest being mobilised against the Government, while his other colleagues remained occupied in other parts of the venue.
Nandlall’s Bill to amend the Law Reform Commission Act of 2016 was unanimously supported by his colleagues in the Government side of the House, including Public Service Minister, Sonia Parag and attorney-at-law, Sanjeev Datadin, and eventually passed; however, with one consideration from Deputy Speaker, Lenox Shuman, for the inclusion of organisations representing Indigenous peoples.
The Law Reform Commission is intended to serve as an advisory unit to the State, possessing the permission to recommend new legislation, as well as possible amendments and repeal to existing laws. It was established as a critical component of the Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme funded by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to the tune of US$8 million.