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 –

  1. firstly, it unduly privileges financial and legal contracts with confidentiality which is entirely incompatible with the proper expenditure of Public Money;
  2. 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?
Brigid_Annisette_George
Former AG, Bridgid Annisette-George

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.

ramlogan-ramdeen-nelson

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.

Invaders’ Bay

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.

Colman Enquiry

On 26th June 2015 it was reported in the Express that Sir Anthony Colman wrote to then President Carmona to complain –

Colman blames lawyers for delay‘.

“…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.

7 thoughts on “Legal Fees Dis-ease

  1. OVER 200 MILLION DOLLARS WAS PAID TO RUSSELL MATINEAU SC FOR LEGAL REPRESENTATION ON THE PETROTRIN NEGOTIATIONS AT THE INDUSTRIAL COURT .

  2. These figures are staggering. What can we do as citizens to stop these practices and hold our leaders accountable?

  3. Several LLB graduates celebrated their admittance to the Bar last Friday (10th May 2019) and many were visibly awed at the prospects of their lauded success. No doubt some will Quickly Contaminate that institution and join the millionaire QCs who drain our coffers and add little to justice. The others will do most of the work and wonder how to pay their bills. George Orwell’s 1984 and Nicholas Shaxson’s Treasure Islands understand those mysteries. Afra does too and his uphill task contradicts all the principles belched out at so many hearings and taught as jurisprudence. The traditional lawyers’ robes can no longer store the coinage as of yesteryear and their legacies pollute at every level. Like AIDS, poverty and abuse, the cure is obtainable only to the rich. Shortpants, Rudder and Chalkdust have taught us, but who listens?

  4. as always afra your exposure hit the nail on the head.

    Legal CORRUPTION now exposed and all at the expense of good delivery from hospitals and medical services to good roads and 24 hr /365 water delivery to food security and national security..

    WAY back in 2007 TO produced global corruption report on judicial corruption but it was difficult for me to launch this then …. hence my disillusion with local TTTI

    What the legal fees case against fmr AG has opened is the Pandora box of obscene misuse and abuse of pubic office/funds( ie TI corruption deftn) by politically appointed AG ‘s from no doubt the current Govt ( we have to see from the very vocal govt what fees they have paid ) to all past AG and QC& SC

    ALL must now be investigated in the light of ongoing charges and revelations or otherwise be guilty of same conspiracy to defraud and money launder…for . what is good for goose must be good for gander

    else it is seen as attack of witchunt & political victimization.

    AND just for record … I have now been called to the BAR in this recent session and promise that I will use my skills to seek to expose these perceived and alleged legal corruption …which along with political and state contract corruption( UFF /UDECOTT/ COLMAN & CLICO / PETROTRIN. ONE ALEXANDER PLACE to name a few ) …. perceived as all part of white collar criminality of political financiers & secrecy in TT .

    But as global tide turns corrupt money will be tracked and exposed and those who shout the loudest need to look in the mirror first .

    I look forward to full declaration by current AG & cronies both young & old of THIS PNM govt legal brief fees and named parties QC & SC via parliamentary accountability
    or under civic pressure

    or else we must vote this corrupt regime out just as was touted for last regime

    pb
    FMR TTTI ( very disillusioned with them)
    anticorruption / good governance
    ATTORNEY

    Keep up the excellent work Afra as your expose means public enlightenment.

    I trust in 2020 we will no longer allow these corrupt regimes to be in control .
    VOTE against corruption by voting actively against of these two tribes ”’

    WHAT is good for goose must be good for gander

  5. I request that “pb” keep a record of this wise proclamation in a place such that in 2030 he can change a few dates and names and resubmit his hopes for a just T&T. Dana was executed for trying and history, beginning perhaps with Socrates, it turgid with such claims.

  6. All of this first brings into question, the roles and authorities of those who knowingly and willfully aided and abetted with these professionals to swindle the State’s money? The lawyers’ exorbitant receipts would have never occurred, had it not been for our very hard working public servants, in the highest of offices. How does a lawyer walk away with over a million? Who assessed the quality of legal service given and agreed to the payments? Who are the other persons involved-the ones who authorized the payments and signed the cheques etc. on the State’s behalf? Do they still work for the State? Was it the Permanent Secretary? Ag. Permanent Secretary? Was it someone else or did the AG skip all protocols, sign the cheques, request a standing order or wire transfer etc.? Were the payments made in Cash? Did the Treasury approve an overdraft Facility to facilitate the payments? How was it done?-Is the question that would lead us to exactly who else is accountable and should therefore be held accountable for these exorbitant fee payments. The Executive Arm of Government and all Ministries, All Permanent Secretaries and Public Servants under its purview, need to be held to a higher level of accountability, whereby corruption is rewarded with swift, fierce penalties.
    Secondly but equally important is the lack of regulation when it comes to Professional Services in T&T . There is a tilted scale in favor of Structural Regulations which govern and often limit entry requirements into the professional fields but we come up light when it comes to Behavioral Regulation in the practice of the profession. The extent to which Behavioral Regulations can be imposed upon Professional Services here in in this country, with regards to quality and price-is a question that can be best answered -by Consumers and Consumer’s Associations.

  7. Thank you Camille and I iterate; Our overpaid administrators operate independently of the minions who can and do lose their jobs (many being contracts) for questioning the authenticity of clearly illicit transactions. These persons operate everywhere in public and private domains. So many of us rely on our paltry pittances that we function like robots. Others gain by being given more pittance and still others have cocoa in the sun or loans within the firms etc. Afra’s references alone (FCPA blog, Ethical Alliance, CPI) point us to the global attempts to inject a semblance of sanity into corporate and government racketeering, though they are collectively not making a serious impact anywhere.
    The theories of thinkers expose our limitations because the creators of the system are themselves those who chase publicly, their shadows. Afra’s exposure of the Tobago Sandals fiasco alerts the thieves to use much more stealth and cunning and avoidance. Our children will pay.

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