…Court cannot enforce order against Finance Minister – AG
…claims Jordan protected from coercive judgements
In the wake of the Court throwing out Finance Minister Winston Jordan’s application to stay a Court order that he either pay or go to jail, Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams believes that the minister cannot be touched because of his status as a minister.
In a brief interview with this publication, AG Williams – who defended Jordan in Court along with Roysdale Forde— remained adamant that the judicial arm of Government cannot force the minister to pay Dipcon Engineering Services the money it won in a Court judgement since 2015.
“We’re looking at it. We think the Court has overreached,” Williams told this publication. “There’s a clear rule that says that you can’t go against a minister with a coercive order, nor can you levy against the (Government)”.
“So we’ll see those things,” Williams added after being asked what will happen on Monday— the deadline given by the Court order handed down for the minister to pay Dipcon US$2 million or be jailed.
Last month, High Court Judge Justice Sewnarine-Beharry had ordered Minister Jordan to pay DIPCON the US$2.2 Million award or face jail time. The Trinidad-based construction company had taken the Finance Minister to Court for failing to honour the payment of millions of dollars, which was awarded to DIPCON by Justice Rishi Persaud in 2015.
After DIPCON took the Government to Court back in 2009 to recover monies owed for road works done, Justice Rishi Persaud had ordered Government to pay the company US$665,032.17 as payment for the works done, along with US$1,563,368.50 for costs it incurred for those works, together with interest on both amounts, at a rate of six per cent annum from February 10, 2009, to October 21, 2015 and thereafter at the rate of four per cent per annum until fully paid.
However, since none of the payments that were owed were made, DIPCON had successfully approached the High Courts for an administrative order to compel the minister to make the payment.
The Government has previously claimed that the previous Government had outsourced the case and that when the coalition got into office, it was taken by surprise with the matter. But former Attorney General Anil Nandlall has repeatedly explained that when he left office, he briefed his successor on all outstanding matters.
According to Nandlall, the AG failed to file an appeal of the High Court’s judgement in time, but rather, filed an application several months late asking for an extension of time. This application was denied by the Court.
Minister Jordan had then approached the Appellate Court in a bid to get the higher Court to set aside, reserve and/or vary the judgement handed down by Justice Sewnarine-Beharry in the High court.
Chief among the grounds in the Notice of Appeal was that the trial judge erred and misdirected herself when she proceeded to hear the application for contempt against Minister Jordan in his personal capacity for monies alleged to be owed by the State and Government of Guyana.
It was outlined that there was no action, proceeding, judgement or order made against the Finance Minister in his private capacity, hence the application was bad in law. It further stated, among other things, that the High Court judge erred when she failed to set aside the entire proceedings which were misconceived.
Additionally, the legal document had outlined that the trial judge erred when she refused to grant the stay of the order for contempt to permit the State and Government of Guyana to pure the process of Appeal, and that she further misdirected herself on the evidence as a whole.
On Friday, Justices Diana Insanally and Simone Morris-Ramlall threw out Jordan’s application, while expressing their view that his application had no merit.
The issue of the APNU/AFC’s respect for the Judiciary has been under the microscope of recent with political analysts and commentators calling out the Government for its behaviour.
In June, Minister of State Dawn Hastings-Williams publicly rejected the Caribbean Court of Justice’s appellate jurisdiction in relation to the validity of the No-Confidence Motion, passed in the National Assembly in December 2018.
The minister’s lack of respect for the Judiciary was displayed during a bizarre protest staged by several Government ministers and a few A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) supporters outside the Guyana Elections Commission(GECOM) headquarters where they were calling for House-to-House registration before elections are held, when Hastings-Williams voiced her blatant disregard for the CCJ as Guyana’s final Court of Appeal by saying that that Court has no authority to issue any consequential orders, since Guyana is an independent state with its own laws.
This led to one senior civil society commentator saying that the minister would have been inclined to make such statements given the posture of the party with its history of cavalier dismissal of the Judiciary in the recent past.
In one instance, the commentator noted that President David Granger himself brushed aside the Chief Justice’s ruling in relation to the interpretation of the Constitution of Guyana with respect to the appointment of a Chairman at GECOM saying that “her perception” was not his “perception”.
“The Chief Justice [CJ] gave an interpretation based on her perception of the law and I will continue to act in accordance with my perception of the Constitution; that is to say, I will not appoint somebody who I do not consider fit and proper,” the President had said on July 19, 2017 as he dismissed the judge’s interpretation of the Constitution as to the qualification of who was “fit and proper” to be appointed as the Chair of GECOM.
The civil society commentator recalled the incident with Attorney General Basil Williams and Justice Franklin Holder to highlight the party’s disrespect towards the Judiciary.
In 2017, Trade Unionist Carvil Duncan had moved to the Court to block the work of a Presidential Tribunal that was set up to determine whether he should be removed from his post as Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC) in light of criminal charges proffered against him, which have since been dismissed at the Magistrate’s Court.
Justice Holder had complained to acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards that during the March 23, 2017 hearing of the case, he abruptly walked out of the Courtroom as a result of statements made by the Attorney General.
He quoted the AG as saying, “I could say what I want to say and however I want to say it, I have always been like that…The last magistrate who (told me what to do) was later found dead”.
Justice Holder had said in his complaint that he felt disrespected by the Attorney General’s behaviour. He had called for an apology to be proffered him in open Court before he would proceed with the case. The judge eventually recused himself from the case.
According to the commentator, it is this display by the PNC senior officials that led to members of the party to have disregard for the Judiciary in general. In fact, the commentator noted that the President himself defied the CCJ when he called for House-to-House registration following the CCJ ruling before the Court issued its consequential orders.
“If the senior members are doing it, obviously the junior members will automatically take the same position and posture,” the commentator said.