PPP to confront Govt on hiring of special prosecutors
Showdown in National Assembly
– questions put for details on emoluments, case load
The much criticised hiring of special prosecutors is expected to be placed under the microscope during today’s sitting of the National Assembly, when Government will have to respond to several questions on notice from the parliamentary Opposition.
According to the order paper, questions will be put to Attorney General Basil Williams by his predecessor, Anil Nandlall. The questions are derived from the fact that estimates show $109 million being allocated to the Attorney General’s Chambers in the 2017 Budget under programme 523.
In addition, Nandlall contends that in the 2018 Budget, undisclosed funds were allocated for hiring special prosecutors, including foreign lawyers. He is therefore seeking answers on this issue.
“Could the honourable Minister provide this House with information on the number of special prosecutors that have been hired, their salaries and benefits, travel and hotel costs, etc, incurred and the number of cases they have been handling for the period January 2017 to March 2018?” Nandlall questioned the State.
In an interview with Guyana Times, Nandlall stressed the implications for the State’s involvement in retaining special prosecutors on a scale of this magnitude.
In the first place, he pointed out that this practise is not supported by the law.
“It is absolutely unlawful for (the State) to be paying special prosecutors. Since 1966, when we became independent, the prosecutorial functions of the State were taken away from the Attorney General office and given to an agency called the Director of Public Prosecutions.”
“That agency is an independent agency and it ought not to be influenced in the discharge of those functions. Government has no role to play in the prosecution of criminal offences. That is not a function of the Government but the State agency.”
The former Attorney General also noted that while serious offences like drug trafficking and murder are being prosecuted by Police prosecutor, the State shells out millions to prosecute members of the former Administration and perceived Opposition supporters on charges that are not even in violation of criminal laws.
“Millions of dollars are expended to hire special prosecutors. And these special prosecutors are hired to prosecute us,” Nandlall noted. “They are not hiring special prosecutors to prosecute the serious offences being committed every day in this country, like robbery, murder, piracy, drug trafficking. These are the real oils of the society. So the public will judge whether that is the best use of taxpayers’ money.
It had been reported that Cabinet appointed six Attorneys; Michael Somersall, Hewely Griffith, Lawrence Harris, Patrice Henry, Compton Richardson, and Trenton Lake as Special Prosecutors in the event that legal action might ensue from audit reports into the Pradoville 2 Housing Scheme and the 2007 World Cup cricket, among others.
Attorney General Williams has long contended that nothing is wrong with Government’s move to hire special prosecutors to go after ‘State assets’ as similar
situations existed in Guyana before.
Williams had also highlighted that Government’s rationale for hiring special prosecutors was because the State prosecutors under the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) were uncomfortable with handling such cases.
Article 116 says “there shall be a Director of Public Prosecutions whose office shall be a public office.”
Article 187 outlines the DPP’s functions which includes to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court and noted that the powers conferred upon the Director shall be vested in him/her to the exclusion of any other person or authority and that Director shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.
Article 187 also notes that the powers of the Director may be exercised through other persons acting under, and in accordance with, the Director’s general or special instructions.
In these circumstances, there has been no indication whether the DPP granted permission for the Government to establish its own prosecutions unit.