The figure, though, was part of a whopping $213,875,000 that had been paid out by the Ministry of the Attorney General during the past nine years, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan revealed in the Senate yesterday.
Contributing to debate on the 2011 Budget, a fiery Ramlogan waded into the former PNM government for its squandermania, saying it had created a few multi-millionaires, including attorneys at a prominent law firm who “repeatedly got all the briefs” on priority matters.
Insisting the country was now “in the throes of an economic crunch” because of the action, Ramlogan elicited raised eyebrows and shocked stares from senators, when he alleged that a former minister’s husband and brother-in-law and firms with “distinct, identifiable political connections, given the personalities that served as partners in those firms” were given lucrative work during the PNM’s tenure in office.
He, however, poked fun at PNM Senate leader Pennelope Beckles-Robinson, saying she was not among the persons who had been paid tidy sums for services.
“My friend, Senator Beckles-Robinson has asked me to exempt her. I do so willingly. She is not among those ten. She was not favoured,” he said, triggering laughter from senators.
“But, I can tell you that Senator Fitzgerald Hinds and Senator Faris al-Rawi, they were among those ten. They too, benefitted. One was on the panel at First Citizens Bank getting work. When you go to mortgage your house, you had to pay for the lawyer’s signature.”
Ramlogan claimed that only well-to-do attorneys had benefitted.
“All lawyers who come from poor families, like myself and minister (Subhas) Panday, when you graduate from law school, there is no space for people like you and me in this country. You have to have parents who frequent the cocktail circuit. You have to have a father who plays golf and most importantly, you must have a connection with the ruling party of the day. Ten people alone got $84 million in legal fees,” he repeated.
He said al-Rawi, son of former PNM minister and San Fernando West MP Diane Seukeran, did not need that money. Hinds, he said, also did not need work from the North West Regional Health Authority to which he had received payment for services..
Hinds and al-Rawi were not in the Chamber during Ramlogan’s contribution. Al-Rawi, though, later returned to support his senatorial colleague Shamfa Cudjoe during her contribution.
Ramlogan regarded Hinds as a good criminal attorney “but an expert in medical negligence, I dare say not.”
“But, you see, when they (former PNM) wish to cast aspersions on us and talk about friends and family, let me make it clear that the Government and the Attorney General are not related in any way to any of the persons in those corruption probes.”
Ramlogan’s shocking disclosures came as he reiterated his Government’s thrust to stamp out corruption, specifically, white collar crime, during its term in office.
“All allegations of wrongdoing will be scrupulously pursued,” he asserted.
“The rule of law demands nothing less....Whatever the cost we will pursue it relentlessly.”
Ramlogan said the Hansard was replete with statements from PNM ministers in the Parliament justifying the vast sums of money that had been spent on corruption probes of the former UNC administration during its term in office.
“But they have turned a blind eye to what was taking place in their own house,” he said adding that they were correct in initiating such investigations.
He, however, likened the PNM to a “fat sow with piglets rushing in from every direction to feed and nurse.”
Ramlogan made it clear the sum of $213, 875,000 which had been paid in legal fees by his ministry for the period 2001 to 2010 did not include the State sector.
“Madam Vice-President (Lyndira Oudit), it is almost as though litigation is artificially created, manufactured and generated to sustain certain individuals and senior members of the inner Bar are bypassed in favour of a chosen few. “Madam Vice-President, they (attorneys) continued to magically appear, time and again, whatever the nature, complexity or subject matter. It is almost as if the rest of the legal profession suffered from some unidentified collective intellectual deficiency that they alone knew about.”
Regarding sums paid in legal fees in the State sector, Ramlogan said, “Madam Vice-President, I thought people will have a heart at some stage in the game. But when I turned to Udecott I saw that they spent $110 million in legal fees and $72 million out of that $110 million went to one firm.
“In other words, one firm got 65 percent of the total legal bill and that firm is not one which hires lawyers who climb the social ladder from the depths of poverty in Laventille and Debe and Penal and Barrackpore. No!”
He further revealed that $28.5 million had been spent by Udecott to defend former chairman Calder Hart during the commission of inquiry into the construction sector.
“With all the waste and corruption at Udecott, they spent $28.5 million to defend the man. And they want me to stop the corruption probe,” he stated, insisting that the probe into Udecott was continuing apace.
He thanked Planning Minister Mary King for working closely with him in the matter.
“We will bring justice to the people of this country,” he said, amid loud desk-thumping from colleagues.“When I looked at the Uff inquiry, I looked at it and I saw that the same names had been retained as counsel to the commission, counsel for Udecott, same names again.”
Ramlogan said one of the first objectives on assuming office was to write every single ministry for a comprehensive listing of legal fees spent during the past eight years and the firms and lawyers to whom monies were paid. He admitted that while some had willingly provided the information, others were reluctant.
On the Clico/Hindu Credit Union bailout issue, Ramlogan admitted Government will not be able to appease everyone who had been distressed by the fiasco.
However, he said all attempts will be made to recoup significant portions of money lost to depositors.
“No one shall escape unscathed,” he said, revealing that amendments to the Central Bank Act for non-criminal litigation were forthcoming.
Ramlogan said his ministry will also be working closely with Chief Justice Ivor Archie regarding prison reform initiatives to meet the challenges of a modern society.
Maintaining a non-committal stance on the controversy between Archie and Minister of Justice Herbert Volney, Ramlogan said, “Prior to my own appointment as Attorney General, I was among the first off the blocks to publicly give my support to elevation of Mr Justice Ivor Archie to Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago. This is a matter of public record as evidenced by my column...I expressed my admiration for Mr Justice Ivor Archie, as he then was. His sense of fairness, his sense of balance and his down-to-earth manner.
“I myself, as a lawyer, appeared before the Honourable Chief Justice in numerous matters in the Court of Appeal...I have appealed his judgements in decisions to the Privy Council and they have reversed his decisions. We are fortunate to have Mr Justice Archie as our Chief Justice. The Chief Justice and I have a mutual respect for each other and the offices that we hold.” Ramlogan assured he had an excellent personal and professional relationship with Archie.
“I wish to assure this nation that this relationship shall continue unaffected and the separation of powers will be scrupulously observed by myself as Attorney General and by this Government,” he said.
Ramlogan said Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar had already made it abundantly clear that no one shall be allowed to trespass on the turf that belonged to the Judiciary.
“The lines of demarcation are quite clear and they will be deepened and strengthened and partnered with the Judiciary to improve the administration of justice.”