Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams faced intense scrutiny yesterday as Parliament
convened in the Committee of Supply to examine the current and capital revenue and expenditure for various agencies.
During the session, Williams faced a series of questions, specifically from former Attorney General Anil Nandlall, regarding estimates made for various departments of the Legal Affairs Ministry.
The Attorney General (AG) was bombarded with questions about a figure of $16 million, which was allocated to purchase a new vehicle. Williams told the House that the sum was included in the 2015 budgetary allocations, but the Government had only acquired a reconditioned vehicle at half that amount. This purchase, Williams said, was made before he took office.
The AG told the House that inherited estimates will be investigated by the Auditor General and the Public Accounts Committee. He noted that only half the figure was expended to purchase the reconditioned vehicle, hence efforts are being made to recover it. However Nandlall refuted the Minister’s statements. He instead called for a criminal investigation to be launched in the matter. Opposition Members of Parliament, Juan Edghill and Irfaan Ali also raised their concerns over the estimated sum. Both MPs noted that the since half the money was expended, this should be evident in the current estimate.
“The entire $16.5 million should not be represented here,” Edghill stated.
Williams was also questioned about an estimate of 1.2 billion presented as part of the budgetary allocations for the Legal Affairs Ministry.
He explained that a portion of the sum represented monies which are to be paid to the Surinamese company Rudisa Beverages, that was awarded US$6M from the Guyana Government following a ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
Williams noted that Nandlall should be familiar with the case, since the current administration inherited the debt from the former Government.
The AG told the National Assembly that the figure also represents monies which will be allocated for training in the CARIBLAW and other sensitisation programmes. As Nandlall noted areas, for which the clarity was needed on the matters of Government spending in matters of Legal Affairs, the Attorney General revealed that plans are afoot for renovation of the current Legal Affairs Ministry.
He said too that plans are in the pipeline for two plots of land to be purchased in the vicinity of Carmichael Street to expand the capacity of the work of the Ministry. The sum of $40,750,000 has been allocated for this project. But Nandlall noted that amount appeared unrealistic. He stressed that $40 million could not possibility be expended on plots of land in the city.
The Attorney General then explained that the two plots would cost approximately $20 million each and the balance of the monies would be used to fix the roof of the Legal Affairs Ministry. Williams disclosed that the estimate represented is far less than the $550 million which the previous Government spent to purchase the building which currently houses the Land Court Registry.
Even as he faced questions over the selected line items, the Attorney General outlined a number of projects towards strengthening the criminal justice system, for which estimates were made for the 2016 budgetary allocation. He told the House the estimates represented the efforts towards the revision of laws; setting up of the law reform commission, procurement of equipment for advancement in the judiciary, and training of judicial officers in particular aspects of the work, such as the manner in which sentences are imposed.
The APNU+AFC Member of Parliament disclosed that the entire budgetary allocation estimate of $1.6 billion for the Legal Affairs Ministry caters for consultations on the cybercrime legislation, the possible appointment of part-time judges and other efforts to tackle the judicial backlog.
According to the AG, also included in the 2016 budgetary allocation are provisions for the implementation of verbatim voice recording systems and other upgrades within the courts. This is set to ease the judicial work load and speed up the trial.
Nandlall questioned whether provisions are made to train the staff to manage the technological advantages, since that the system is already in place. Williams did not address Nandlall’s statement but noted that there are some challenges with deploying the technology to speed up the cases.
The Legal Affairs Minister noted that a proposal was made to rent a building for this purpose. Williams then outlined a number of other plans for the strengthening of the criminal services, a Canadian-funded project. Under this project the Government was granted $110 million grant; some $75 million of that grant is expected to be expended in 2016.
The sum represents monies allocated to train investigators in the criminal justice system on the matters of Crime Scene Investigations, particularly aspects of video analysis.
The AG said that a large section of workers in the justice system will be trained in this regard. These include Judges, Magistrates, Police Prosecutors and State Prosecutors attached to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Williams however explained that some of the projects are not likely to come on stream until later in the year, since they are being funded by the Inter-American Development Bank.
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