$500M GOLD RUSH
By Andre Bagoo Thursday, October 18 2012
THE STATE, and specifically the Central Bank, spent approximately $500 million in fees for lawyers, investigators and consultants between October 2007 and July 2012, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said yesterday, as he sought to lay bare the extent of fees funded by the taxpayer.
As he attacked what he called the “gold rush” of opportunism triggered by a lack of proper systems to gauge value for money under the previous administration, Ramlogan revealed costs which straddled both the last administration and the present. He noted the last administration had sought to suppress the disclosure of legal fees to the Parliament.
The Attorney General said:
* Total legal fees paid to local and foreign counsel by the Central Bank during the period October 2007 to July 2012 was $113 million;
* Total legal fees paid to local and foreign Counsel by the Central Bank in relation to CL Financial during the period October 2008 to July 2012 was $103 million;
* A total of $82.8 million in fees were paid by the Central Bank to Canadian forensic investigator Bob Lindquist;
* Total legal fees paid to local and foreign counsel by the Central Bank in relation to the Commission of Inquiry into Clico and Hindu Credit Union (HCU) during the period Oct 2010 to July 2012 was $32.5 million;
* Total legal fees paid to local and foreign counsel by the Central Bank “in relation to fraud on the public” during the period October 2010 to July 2012 was $57 million.
* There was also a bill of $82 million for consultants.
Ramlogan also said the Ministry of the Attorney General had to pay out $30 million during the last financial year in inherited bills. The Attorney General also said he inherited 24 other bills totalling $8.4 million as well as an $11.5 million bill from the quashed BAE Offshore Patrol Vessel contract. These figures are in addition to a total of $84 million paid by the Ministry of the Attorney General for legal fees from 2001 to 2010.
Ramlogan, on the defensive ahead of a planned motion of censure due later this month, said the systems inherited from the PNM in relation to how the State ordered its legal affairs were lacking.
“What this administration inherited can best be likened to the California gold rush in the late nineteenth century: there was an absence of process, procedures and systems. There was no proper structure, so persons were easily exploited as a result,” he said during the Budget debate.
In relation to the fees paid by the Central Bank under former Governor Ewart Williams, he read out a list of the top seven fee-earners for the period 2007 to 2012.
These included Reginald Armour SC ($17. 7 million); Araujo Law ($11.5 million); Ian Benjamin ($9.3 million); Lydia Mendonca and Co ($4.2 million); Pollonais, Blanc, de la Bastide and Jacelon ($3.4 million); Sherry-Ann Bachew-Rudd ($2.5 million) and Mair and Company ($1 million).
“The grand total of legal fees for the Central Bank for that period was $305 million,” Ramlogan said. “You could have built a new hospital with that.”
Ramlogan did not say what was the nature of the work funded by the Central Bank or indicate if the work was in the public interest. He made no allegations of wrong-doing.
Armour represents the Commissioner for Cooperative Development at the Clico Commission of Inquiry and has also provided legal services for President George Maxwell-Richards.
Ramlogan noted that he was once in private practice bringing lawsuits against the State and he now realises the extent to which he was underpaid.
“I am now seeing what they were paying the people against me in cases that I won. And I think I was underpaid!” he exclaimed. “When I am being criticised for the amount of money the Attorney General is receiving given the vast magnitude that is being undertaken when you hear these figures, what would you say now?”
The Attorney General’s ministry was allocated $95 million for the year for fees. This breaks down to forensic investigation fees ($49 million); retainers for local and foreign attorneys ($34 million) and expenses of overseas counsel and foreign witnesses ($3 million).
Ramlogan also told senators of a plan for the State to build a new south branch of his ministry, meant to house an office for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and to offer services to the southern community. The cost of this has been estimated in budget documents at about $10 million.
“I think it will be a signature building that will serve south Trinidad,” Ramlogan said. “It will give the DPP’s office a dignified space in south Trinidad.”
The office of the DPP falls under the administrative remit of the Ministry of the Attorney General, a post which itself once held prosecutorial powers pre-1976.
Ramlogan also said Petrotrin has won $57 million in damages from Fluor Daniel South America Limited in a case at the International Court of Arbitration.
He said the State has also entered into a $315 million settlement in relation to a US$300 million claim made by Trinidad Energy Limited. He said $1 billion is needed to complete the Government Campus Plaza at downtown Port-of-Spain.