AG recommends Police probe into coalition’s $170M splurge on private lawyers
– many contracts breached procurement laws
The Audit Office of Guyana has recommended that the Guyana Police Force (GPF) be called in to investigate the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government’s splurge on high-priced local and overseas lawyers during its time in office, many of these retainers in breach of procurement laws.
The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government had requested that the Audit Office conduct a probe into the millions spent by the former Government on lawyers it contracted between 2015 and 2020.
In a letter from Auditor General Deodat Sharma to Attorney General and Senior Counsel Anil Nandlall, he was informed that based on the findings of the special audit, a Police investigation would be required.
“Based on the documents examined, there was no evidence to conclude that these contracts were publicly advertised, which is in breach of Sections 25 (1) and 10 (1) of the Procurement Act of 2003,” the AG said in his report.
The Auditor General pointed out that the Procurement Act states “Subject to subsection (2), public tendering is mandatory. For such tendering an invitation to tender or to prequalify, as applicable, is mandatory” and “the procuring entity shall maintain a record of the procurement proceedings including the means used to solicit suppliers or contractors and a record of any such advertisements”.
However, the Auditor General noted that the former APNU/AFC Government single-sourced all of these contracts, in breach of the Procurement Act. Sharma further pointed out that according to the Guide to the Public Procurement Procedures, “where contracts are to be awarded regularly, or are to be renewed within a specified period of time, the contract value is established on the basis of the actual aggregate cost of similar contracts or services awarded over the previous twelve months or financial year, adjusted where possible for anticipated changes in the value or quantity.”
According to the Auditor General, it was observed that in cases where private lawyers represented the Ministry of Legal Affairs at more than one court hearing, approval was sought from the Ministerial Tender Board and later from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) for the additional hearing and vice versa.
In its findings, the Audit Office urged the Attorney General to “ensure that there is full compliance with the Procurement Act 2003 with respect of awarding of contracts; appropriate disciplinary action should be taken against any culpable officer(s)”. And for “the Guyana Police Force be called in to conduct an in-depth investigation and institute charges where necessary.”
According to the Auditor General, the former APNU/AFC Government spent $170.8 million on a total of 26 Attorneys-at-Law, law firms or agencies, to represent it in a number of cases between May 2015 and August 2020, when the former Government finally relinquished power.
Taking first place in terms of taxpayers’ monies paid is a foreign law firm. Belizean law firm Courtney Coye LLP received five cases under the former Government and was paid a total of $28.992 million.
Coming in second are local lawyers Rex McKay, SC, and Neil Boston, SC, who received three cases and were paid $28.420 million jointly from the State coffers. Not far behind is local law firm Fraser, Housty and Yearwood, which received two cases and $20.849 million.
The Auditor General’s substantive 2019 report had also highlighted the fact that despite a fully stocked Attorney General Chambers that included a Solicitor General and three subordinates, as well as State Counsels, the APNU/AFC Government spent almost $100 million for external lawyers to assist former Attorney General Basil Williams in just one year.
According to the Auditor General’s 2019 report, the $207.2 million was budgeted under others for the Ministry of Legal Affairs while $199.6 million was expended. According to the Auditor General, $99.143 million was spent on legal fees and retainer agreements to three law firms and seven external Attorneys-at-Law.
The Auditor General noted that this is so despite Williams, a Senior Counsel, having the services of “one Solicitor General, one Deputy Solicitor General, two Assistant Solicitor Generals and six State Counsels.” According to the Auditor General, however, a special audit is being conducted into this state of affairs and a separate report will be issued.
Williams’ successor, current Attorney General Nandlall, had also bemoaned the staggering sum of $146 million that APNU/AFC forked out for the services of private lawyers, between 2017 to 2020 – the bills and invoices for which he was greeted with when he entered office.
Nandlall had previously revealed to the media that these lawyers, who were hired from both Guyana and the Caribbean, were retained in a series of meritless political litigation that the former Government initiated and eventually lost.