My previous article gave two examples of the stance of our public officials on legal advice and legal fees. I also cited Dr Rowley’s statement to Parliament on 1 July 2016 which gave details of the $78.5M in legal fees spent at the Colman Enquiry into the collapse of CL Financial.
The details in the PM’s voluntary disclosure of those Colman Enquiry legal fees was contrasted with the plain reluctance of certain Public Officials to disclose similar details to me in relation to the CL Financial bailout. The evasions of the Ministry of Finance to resist my litigation were all taken under the advice of eminent Senior Counsel, no doubt highly-paid.
The central Republican value, has to be that none of us are lawfully entitled to the obscene privileges which prevailed in the bad old days. In fact, the distinctive thing about a Republic is that there are no more Earls, Lords, Ladies, Kings, Queens, Barons or Princes – save and except for Carnival Time. But those Republican ideals are being experienced in an individualistic and status-obsessed society.
To quote the inimitable Growling Tiger (Neville Marcano) in his 1937 classic ‘Money is King‘ –
If a man have money today,
People do not care if he have cocobey (leprosy),
He can commit Murder and get off free,
He can live in the Governor’s Company…
The deep schism between the dreams embodied in our 1976 Republican Constitution and the sharp edges of reality finds expression in the way information is handled. The response to my requests for details of monies paid to CL Financial’s creditors and the legal fees incurred in that bailout shows a revealing schism in this so-called Information Age.
It is normal and natural for the public to be given details in relation to all sorts of contracts for goods, works and services – contractor or supplier names, amounts paid with dates and so on. Contracts for roads, bridges, buildings, property rentals and so on. We have all had that kind of information available a long time now, maybe too late in the contract cycle, but it was available.
But if one is requesting details of payments to investors or lawyers, a series of shameless evasions are deployed. This official stance has two consequences –
- firstly, it unduly privileges financial and legal contracts with confidentiality which is entirely incompatible with the proper expenditure of Public Money;
- secondly, if allowed to subsist and become a precedent, that undue and unexplained confidentiality can effectively destroy the hard-won right to information the public enjoys in relation to the other, presumably less-privileged, contracts. If the lawyers’ contract is secret and the investors’ amounts are secret, why should the contractor’s details be published?
This flawed approach to these fundamental issues of public accountability on legal fees also arose in June 2008 in the stance taken by then AG, Bridgid Annisette-George who now serves as Speaker of the House. The then AG effectively refused to answer pointed questions as to the cases handled by and fees paid to Douglas Mendes SC.
Now these hidden details are of real importance in terms of professional norms and value for money, especially in light of the recently-instituted cases against former AG, Anand Ramlogan SC, and the now-former UNC Senator, Gerald Ramdeen. What is more important in my view is that these cases seem to be proceeding in reliance on the testimony of a UK-based QC, Vincent Nelson, who has reportedly pleaded guilty to three charges related to a conspiracy to defraud the State in relation to large-scale legal fees.
It was clear to me in relation to my cases that the State has been chronically over-lawyered, even if the results were seldom in their favour. Over-lawyered both in terms of the numbers of lawyers engaged and the size of fees charged in those cases.
I can remember clearly the late Dr Sir Fenton Ramsahoye SC (reportedly mentor to former AG Anand Ramlogan SC) giving an eight-page legal opinion to the Ministry of Planning & Sustainable Development on the Invaders’ Bay matter and that fee was $418,000.
I can also remember the Ministry’s team at the Appeal Court hearing, led by the eminent Russell Martineau SC – former AG and former President of the Law Association. That team had three ‘Senior Juniors’ – Gerald Ramdeen, Shiv Sharma and Kelvin Ramkissoon – and three other attorneys who were salaried employees of the State. Despite those considerable resources, all deployed at our expense and in opposition to the Public Interest, Martineau spent the first 20 minutes on his feet correcting and tweaking the State’s ultimately-unsuccessful submissions.
On 26th June 2015 it was reported in the Express that Sir Anthony Colman wrote to then President Carmona to complain –
“…Sir Anthony Colman, the lone Commissioner in the Commission of Enquiry into the failure of CLICO and related companies, has written to President Anthony Carmona criticising the competence of two attorneys employed at the Commission.
Colman wrote, “…of the three local attorneys two proved to be so incompetent, inexperienced or lacking in any sense of professional responsibility that they became unavailable or only partially available.”
The Commission’s legal team, which earns $12,000 a day included Counsel to the Commission Peter Carter QC, instructing attorney at that time Celeste Jules, Gerald Ramdeen, Varun Debideen and Shankar Bidaisee. They were selected by former Attorney General Anand Ramlogan.
Contacted yesterday to comment, Debideen acknowledged that Colman’s criticism was directed at himself and Ramdeen but that it was unwarranted…”
These are the very same attorneys who were reportedly paid those huge fees as detailed in the previous article –
Gerald Ramdeen………………………… $5,855,468.00
Varun Debideen ………………………… $4,955,000.00
ADDENDUM: Taxes and VAT?
I am always perturbed at how seldom lawyers give true and proper receipts like the rest of us in business and the professional life. How few of them seem to have VAT Registration numbers and so on.
The aspect of tax declarations and tax compliance is certainly one to be closely examined if these prosecutions are to be successful.