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Lawyers: AG’s office inflated our bills
A legal battle is brewing over the financial information provided to Parliament last week about payment made to attorneys by the Ministry of the Attorney General for legal and other technical/professional services between 2010 and 2014. This is as attorneys, some of whom have been paid millions by the State, signalled their intention to take legal action against the AG’s ministry over alleged discrepancies and duplication of payments listed in a document provided to Parliament outlining fees paid to them by former AG Anand Ramlogan.
They contend that the fees document, which formed part of a written response to a question raised by Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley, contained deliberately duplicated payments to inflate payments for certain attorneys. Permanent Secretary at the ministry, Marlene Juman, when contacted about the allegations, refused to comment. Juman, when asked if she was aware of the pre-action letters being sent, said, “I am sorry, I am not going to comment on that.”
When pressed on whether the alleged discrepancies were going to be investigated, Juman said, “I am not going to comment on anything,” and promptly ended the call. She then refused to answer subsequent calls to her cellphone. AG Garvin Nicholas, when contacted on the matter yesterday, said he was not aware of the pre-action protocol letters “if sent.” However, he said, he has asked the PS “to verify all sums supplied for the parliamentary answer.” He said that exercise commenced on Thursday and a report was expected early next week.
Nicholas added, via text message, that he would only be able to say if there were discrepancies after he had reviewed the report. On Wednesday, former AGs John Jeremie and Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj called for a criminal probe into the payment of fees under Ramlogan’s tenure. Avory Sinanan, SC, Kelvin Ramkissoon, and Gerald Ramdeen are demanding an apology from the AG’s ministry for the alleged discrepancies.
Ramdeen sends letter to PS
Ramdeen, in a March 26 letter addressed to Juman, expressed concern over the document. He outlined 12 items that were duplicated and identified as payments. The duplicated items amounted to $4,190,000 which carried his total earned from the AG to $15,541,423, a figure which he contended was inaccurate. He pointed out that he never billed the AG for $408,000 for a pre-action protocol letter for the Cheryl Miller matter.
“This is a serious error on the part of the Ministry of the Attorney General and as the accounting officer for the ministry it must be a disturbing matter that this kind of error can occur and be the subject of information being provided to the Parliament,” Ramdeen wrote. He informed Juman that the figures in the document provided by the ministry as payments allegedly made to him contained “serious and substantial inaccuracies.
“I cannot accept that the errors contained in this document are not deliberately contrived for an ulterior motive. To accept otherwise would be an afront to common sense,” Ramdeen wrote. Ramkissoon, in his letter, pointed to 13 duplications amounting to $2,716,884.32 in the record of payments issued to him. The duplication carried Ramkissoon’s alleged earnings to $9,723,399.
Sinanan, in an interview with Sunday Guardian on the matter, said his staff was gathering his invoices and documents which would be dispatched to the PS on Tuesday with his letter of concern. He said there were incorrect figures and incorrect matters listed next to his name on the document. He also took issue with the publication of the figures. The list indicated that Sinanan earned some $10,406,925.
Fees under question
The Sunday Guardian obtained a cabinet e-mail correspondence which indicated that some $179,340,539.63 in fees paid out by Ramlogan, over the last four years, were fees he had been constrained to pay. Some $80,991,644.03 of those fees were cabinet-sanctioned fees for forensic audits and probes, $73,237,110.97 comprised inherited bills from Jeremie’s term and $25,111,785.63 were fees paid for the Director of Public Prosecutions office.
The correspondence pointed out that the document presented in Parliament was riddled with errors, one of which was a $10 million difference in the total amount paid versus the total fees invoiced columns. The amount paid was listed as $353,734,620.38, while the total fees invoiced were listed as $343,378,699.78. Ramlogan, when contacted by Sunday Guardian about the concerns raised, declined comment. He said questions about that matter should be directed to current AG Garvin Nicholas.
However, Ramlogan contended that the payments he made were within his budget and he did nothing untoward.
Concerns over publication of fees
Israel Khan, SC; Russell Martineau, SC; Jagdeo Singh, and Larry Lalla, in brief interviews with the Sunday Guardian, expressed serious concerns about their fees being made public. Khan told the Sunday Guardian that he did not look through the report and he was not in a position to say if his fees were duplicated. However, he did not mince words over the publication of legal fees attributed to him.
“I am a bit angry that they left me open to having my son kidnapped, my wife, my family. People are not taking into consideration that 25 per cent of those fees are paid in income tax and 15 per cent is paid in VAT (value added tax.) I was briefed by Jeremie long before the PP (Peoples’ Partnership) came into office. It was under the PNM, I was briefed,” Khan contended. Sinanan questioned why fees were being disclosed when precedent was set by previous PNM AGs who said they would not disclose legal fees since it compromised attorneys’ safety and privacy.
Martineau said he did not review the document outlining the fees that were paid. He said since his fees were published friends have been begging him to be careful. The senior counsel defended his fees as reasonable. It is also tradition that junior attorneys are paid two-thirds of the senior counsel’s fees. “What I worked for I earned. I certainly do a lot of work; it is long hours and hard work. My fees are very modest compared to others. The Government still owes me money. Every AG could attest that I do a lot of work and gave advice that I did not charge for,” Martineau said.
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