Over $99 million was spent on legal fees for the Attorney General’s Chambers in 2019, according to the Auditor General’s report which flagged some of the spending for outside legal assistance.
The matter engaged the Public Accounts Committee today, and while defending the spending, Solicitor General, Nigel Hawke told the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that it is a normal practice in Guyana and many other Caricom and Commonwealth countries to soliticit outside legal help for various cases that come before the Attorney General’s Chambers.
The Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, in his 2019 Report on the Public Accounts of Guyana, $99.143 million was paid to retain three Law Firms and seven external Attorneys-at-Law in 2019, although the Chamber, at the time, had a Solicitor General, a Deputy Solicitor General, two Assistant Solicitors General and six State Counsels.
Grilled by Government Member of Parliament and Attorney-at-Law, Sanjeev Datadin on the Chambers’ decision to outsource the lawyers when it was ‘adequately staffed,’ the Solicitor General, in a passionate defence, told the PAC, that there was nothing abnormal about outsourcing, and sole sourcing legal luminaries to represent the State in major cases.
“These were specific matters that required specialised expertise as is the case even now. When in the Chambers there are specialised expertise required, we take external Counsel and that is the practice, and the policy of the State,” the Solicitor General explained.
The Solicitor General was keen on noting that not all of the cases involved the No-Confidence Motion.
He said said given the Chambers’ case load, external assistance is often sought, particularly for major cases, adding that many of the Attorneys attached to the AG Chambers serving as State Counsel are just out of Law School and will therefore require guiding. He said major and technical cases cannot be handled by them.
“It is a normal practice in Guyana, it is a normal practice in first world countries, it is a normal practice throughout the entire Commonwealth Caribbean and Commonwealth. The State, if it desires to retain the best counsel to fight its case, it would do so as a matter of policy,” he further explained.
Pressed by Opposition Member of Parliament, Ganesh Mahipaul for more answers, the Solicitor General told the PAC that the AG’s Report is unfair. He said while the report pinpoints the use of external lawyers, it fell short in acknowledging the volume of cases before the Chamber at any given time.
“When a report is put in a way, notwithstanding having one Solicitor General, one Deputy, one Assistant, it gives the impression as though, the Solicitor General, the Deputy Solicitor General and the other officers does nothing. So, I want to make the point that on average at the Chamber of the Attorney General, we get 10 cases per day, you calculate that per week, that’s 50 cases per week, you calculate that per month, that 240 cases per month, some ranging from very technical to no so technical. If you go back to 2019, it was the Solicitor General, a Deputy Solicitor General, an Assistant Solicitor General and six officers, those six officers, just out of law school. It is impossible to manage a Chamber of the Attorney General, with only six (officers),” Mr Hawke explained.
The Solicitor General made it clear that the issue has nothing to do with politics or whether it is the PPP/C or APNU+AFC in Government. He told the PAC, that the Chamber is made up of a group of professionals, who are prepared to work, and it is unfair for their work to be flagged with out the details about the volume of work being reflected in the Auditor General’s reports.