LEGAL fees accumulated by the PP government, under the leadership of Kamla Persad-Bissessar and former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, have amounted to $1.44 billion, and the Office of the Attorney General has inherited nearly $140 million in unpaid bills.
This was revealed by AG Faris Al-Rawi on Tuesday at a media conference at the Ministry of Legal Affairs, where he disclosed that a civil claim against former Udecott chairman Calder Hart and three former directors by the company was dismissed because of a failure to comply with the civil proceedings rules to set the first case-management conference.
Nevertheless, he said, “We certainly intend as a govenment to seek every remedy possible to restore the situation into the courts of TT so the matter can be determined by its merits and not on a technicality, because this dismissal is effectively a technicality. But it lies squarely at the feet of the AG under Kamla Persad-Bissessar – Anand Ramlogan – who had the conduct in these matters and he gave the instructions for these matters.”
Al-Rawi also spoke of the cost of the litigation undertaken by the former administration.
“I want to remind the population that the UNC, under Mrs Persad-Bissessar and under AG Anand Ramlogan, presided over what is conservatively the expenditure of $1.44 billion spent in legal fees in the time that they were in government of TT. As AG, I can confirm, I have inherited $140-odd million in unpaid legal fees.”
Al-Rawi said his ministry did two things upon assuming office: maintain all permanent staff and all attorneys representing the previous government to continue with their matters.
“We insisted that the team of attorneys hired by the UNC government, hired by Anand Ramlogan, that they were to continue acting as attorneys at law against the people that they started litigation against, and that was critical, because it would be a dereliction of duty in some circumstances to change attorneys at law,” he said. “Because you run into the argument that a new team of attorneys would not have done what an old team of attorneys did. And it was important to not interrupt the claims brought by the UNC government. After all, the Government of the Republic of TT spent $1.44 billion in legal fees alone and left $136 million for this AG to pay.”
Al-Rawi also referred to the “A Team” of lawyers set up by Ramlogan to investigate the previous PNM administration.
“That ‘A Team’ was sent to investigate a number of matters. They included UTT, eTeck, Petrotrin, Udecott and Calder Hart, to name a few. I remind you that upon taking the office of AG I was written to and met with the existing attorneys acting in the Malcolm Jones matter...As a result of their written advice and their oral amplification in the meetings we had with them, they wrote to the AG’s office and advised that the claim against Malcolm Jones was destined to collapse, because it was poorly administered and there was no evidence behind the claim.”
On that basis, he said, the claim against Jones was discontinued.
Afterwards, he said, “On the advice of the UNC team of lawyers, they then went to the Parliament to complain that the government was easing up its friends. They moved a motion against me in Parliament saying they had no confidence in the Attorney General.”
He said seven attorneys acted in the matter and three alone cost the government $2,793,338.
“The other attorneys had billings coming directly to the Attorney General’s office, because Anand Ramlogan, as the attorney general, ran this litigation from the AG’s office.
“Under my tenure as AG, Udecott runs that litigation, not the AG’s office. I pulled the fees coming from the Attorney General’s office, and we are in the process of tabulating the fees spent.
“But I want to tell you, for Alan Newman alone, I have crossed $3.646 million. For Alix Partners, which is another part of the Ramlogan ‘A Team,’ I’ve crossed – several matters, including the Udecott matters – $13.845 million. For Bob Lindquist, nearly $2 million. For ‘other investigative work,’ we’ve crossed several-odd million dollars more. And, therefore, the account is still being tabulated.”
He said taxpayers have expended millions through numerous attorneys who acted for Ramlogan and Udecott, the bills for which are still being calculated. The “investigative work,” which is included in the costs, included investigative work coming from the Ramlogan A Team of lawyers and experts.
“I thought it necessary to inform you of these particulars because the saga of what this country paid to the A Team and others is a very important saga which was first raised by the then opposition leader Dr Keith Rowley, when he was sitting in opposition.
He said the attorneys removed themselves. “The junior counsel left the case, handed back the papers in or around 2017. The other lawyer, in the face of our refusal to let him go, had to apply to the court to get permission to leave the case. And the reason we kept them is that there was heavy obligation in times to be done.
“So it is like a pilot in the middle of a plane crashing, saying, ‘Hold on, let someone else fly the plane.’ It would have been irresponsible to relieve attorneys at law in the middle of pressing obligations to the court, and, importantly, it would have lost the institutional memory of the case.”