Ignorance of the law is no defence
Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C., and long-term Head of GHRA, Mike McCormack
Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C., and long-term Head of GHRA, Mike McCormack

–AG Nandlall tells one-man GHRA

THE Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA)’s denial that it was in breach of the Companies Act under which it is registered over 40 years, creating a debt of over $38 million to the Government of Guyana, has been deemed “wholly unacceptable”.

Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs Mohabir Anil Nandlall, S.C., said the information is sourced from the country’s official repository, the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority, as well as the provisions of the Companies Act.

“GHRA is now obliged to establish for the public that it is compliant with the provisions of the Companies Act to properly traverse the contentions advanced. Nothing short will suffice,” he said in a letter addressed to Mike McCormack, Co-President of the GHRA.

In his detailed response, the Attorney-General addressed each aspect of the GHRA’s claims, adding that he intends to make his letter available to the public for clarity and reciprocity.

He said that under the process in which laws are enacted, the Companies Act was made available via the Official Gazette, and this in turn constitutes adequate notice. There is no legal duty imposed on the Attorney-General to go beyond this extent in making non-governmental organisations (NGOs) aware of this legislation.

“Ignorance of the law has never been a defence,” Minister Nandlall said.

Additionally, even though the Companies Act is currently undergoing review, the Attorney-General pointed out that it is the duty of the GHRA to comply with the legislation in its current form.
Moreover, it is the responsibility of the Registrar of Companies, and by extension the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority to administer and enforce the provisions of the Companies Act, and not that of the Attorney-General’s Chambers.

Meanwhile, the GHRA has claimed that this singling out has come from a supposedly random search that revealed a breach in the compliance practices. To this end, the Attorney-General reminded of the organisation’s boastful claims that “we have all our ducks in a row as far as routine legal and financial matters are concerned”.

He added that the Constitution outlines each person’s right to freedom of expression, which encompasses the free exchange of information, thoughts, and ideas from both the critic and the subject of the criticism.

And, therefore, the government is well within its rights to thoroughly examine the self-proclaimed compliance in respect of legal and financial matters.

“Based upon commentaries published in certain quarters, it appears that some are of the view that the Government of Guyana has no right of response or rejoinder when it is criticised, and if and when it chooses to exercise these facilities, it is labelled as vindictive and intolerant of criticisms.

“I wish to make it abundantly clear that since Independence, no Government of Guyana has a superior track record of democratic credentials than successive PPP/C Governments. Democratic governance, respect for the rule of law, the Constitution, and the human rights of the citizenry continue to be the cornerstone of our Government,” Minister Nandlall said.

The GHRA had accused the government of “singling out” the organisation based on its criticism of the process of Guyana’s Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative.

However, the PPP/C Government remains open to constructive criticism, but it will also respond accordingly to claims like those presented by the GHRA.

“We will neither be timid nor will we abdicate our entitlement to exercise these facilities in the public interest, when necessary,” the Attorney-General said.

Accordingly, in keeping with the clean hand doctrine based on the equitable maxim, civil organisations which seek to offer public criticism, must carry themselves with the level of integrity that befits such a position.

“We hold the GHRA to these minimum standards, and for this we offer no apologies. This position applies to every other civic organisation operating within the democratic space of Guyana. How else will a conscientious public take them seriously?” the Attorney-General questioned.



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