ATTORNEY General Faris Al-Rawi’s response to questions raised over the hiring of his wife’s law firm by the Office of the Prime Minister was a lost opportunity.
He could have used it to demonstrate the highest standards in public life and to set the record straight on the state’s procurement of legal services.
“I had nothing to do with the hiring of my wife’s firm,” Mr Al-Rawi told Newsday when questioned over the involvement of a firm tied to his wife in correspondence between the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha and Cabinet on national scholarships.
The AG went further. He said his wife’s firm is forbidden to receive work from the Office of the AG but not from other arms of the state, including the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM). Al-Rawi said there are Cabinet ministers whose spouses are attorneys and do work on behalf of the state.
The San Fernando West MP further disclosed his wife has done work for the State in the past.
Now, the AG is not in the same position as an ordinary member of Cabinet. Firstly, he is the second most senior figure in the Executive, without whom a Cabinet cannot be constituted. Secondly, it is the nature of the AG’s office that he holds responsibility across all ministries on legal matters. He is Cabinet’s chief legal adviser.
Mr Al-Rawi sees no legal bar to his conduct.
This is the second time in the space of a few days that he has viewed legal technicalities as licence to set an unfortunate example. Mere days ago he half-apologised for a covid19-regulation-flouting social-media appearance which drew censure even from the Prime Minister.
While the AG has washed his hands of his wife’s work for the state, he cannot so readily distance himself from the provisions of the Integrity in Public Life Act which hold officials in public life and their spouses to standards meant to discourage the mixing of public office and private gain.
Mr Al-Rawi is also now clearly conflicted in relation to the state’s move to remove “legal services” from the public procurement law.
Had his wife already been hired to do legal work as he sat in Parliament presiding over the watering-down of the law? He may have declared an interest in the past, but he cannot in good conscience advise the Cabinet on the question of the proclamation of the recent amendments going forward.
The hiring of outside counsel raises questions about government practices. We ask: do the Office of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Education not all have lawyers on staff capable of discharging a response to a pre-action protocol letter?
Ironically, the competence of legal staffing is also a matter for the AG.