Attorney General partly reveals details of $120m spent in legal fees

Attorney General Reginald Armour. - File photo by Jeff K Mayers
Attorney General Reginald Armour. - File photo by Jeff K Mayers

ATTORNEY GENERAL Reginald Armour told the House of Representatives on June 7 he had partly acceded to a call by Barataria/San Juan MP Saddam Hosein for details of attorneys awarded state briefs to the tune of $120 million.

This sum was part of an extra allocation of $124 million to his ministry as a $2.3 billion supplementary allocation to the 2024 national budget approved last Monday by the House's Standing Finance Committee (SFC).

He spoke after Energy Minister Stuart Young retorted to Oropouche West MP Davendranath Tancoo by saying the law said individuals whose "personal information" was being disclosed first had a right to be consulted.

Armour said from June 3-6, his ministry undertook an exercise consulting the attorneys and had then supplied some fees details to the House on June 6.

"The fees paid to the attorneys who have consented to their names being published amount in the aggregate to the sum of $10,996,865.

"The gross figure to be paid to the attorneys who did not consent to their names being published amounts to the sum of $51,032,394."

Armour said the gross figure to be paid to attorneys who did not respond was $8,799,462.

"As at June 6, the total amount of outstanding legal fees was $70,828,722."

He said three departments of his ministry had engaged attorneys who had not yet submitted their bills, even as other attorneys would be engaged in the future, all to be paid out of the balance of the $120 million. Armour said numbers alone could be misapplied, but needed a proper context.

He said the under former People's Partnership government, the bill for legal fees was about $99 million per year which totalled about $500 million.

For 2015-2024, Armour estimated legal fees at about $113 million per year.

He said the average monthly figure was $8.25 million under the former regime, and $9.25 million under the present government, but noted the effect of inflation.

Armour said former AG Faris Al-Rawi had said the former government had spent $1.4 billion in legal fees.

"The contextual point here is that with reference to my single ministry's application today for supplemental appropriation for legal fees, the former administration had spread its expenditure on legal fees over a number of other ministries and state agencies amounting to $1.4 billion in legal fees."

Armour noted hefty spending on foreign legal fees under the former government and said efforts were under way to reclaim some fees.

He said his government has paid $164 million in 2015-2022 for legal fees inherited from the former government.

FOI Act: Disclosure of personal info can be challenged

Tancoo earlier said there was no legal impediment to the Government's disclosure of the names of attorneys hired for state briefs, but Energy Minister Stuart Young said those attorneys were first being contacted to ask their if they agreed to such a disclosure.

Tancoo said, "There is no legal requirement for the Attorney General to be able to stand and say he is not providing the names of the lawyers that have been hired or the value of their payments."

He alleged Armour at last Monday's SFC had uttered a fabrication.

Tancoo said, "It is possible to go through the Freedom of Information Act and get that very same documentation.

"It has happened before and he provided it via the Freedom of Information Act to a citizen but will not provide it here to the Parliament where he is supposed to come and account."

He said that since the information must be provided under the FOI Act, he surmised the privacy of that information was not protected by law.

"Previous attorney generals provided that information. The former attorney general had provided that information to the very same House, in great detail.

"It is only this attorney general who seems to have some fear of providing information, of providing clarity, when it comes to accounting for the public purse."

Tancoo invited Armour to state the law that justified his stance.

Young, in his address, retorted.

"The attorney general, quite rightly in law, was here earlier this week and said he will ask each attorney whether he or she had objection to his or her name being published."

He read the FOI Act, section 4(3) which said when personal information was being sought from a public authority, that entity shall tell the subject of its decision and of the subject's right to apply to the High Court for a judicial review of the entity's decision.

Young hit, "So don't come here and try to mislead the population and attack the honourable Attorney General. The law provides for that. If you are going to give out my information, tell me so I could go and challenge it if I want to."

Young also said the act allows access to documents, not to information.


"Attorney General partly reveals details of $120m spent in legal fees"

More in this section