Budget 2017 will improve justice system-AG Williams

GUYANA, Friday, December 9, 2016

The Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams noted that budget 2017 seeks to fortify the justice administration system.

During debate of the national budget in the National Assembly on Thursday, AG Williams clarified several “matters that was clearly not the truth” made by opposition Member of Parliament Anil Nandlall.

Nandlall criticised the government for the shortage of judges in the country, the failure of the President to act on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) recommendations, and the measures in the 2017 budget that give the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) powers to garnish monies from the bank accounts of those who evade paying taxes.

Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Basil Williams

On the issue of shortage of judges, AG Williams noted that “this situation has been like this for well over a decade.” The AG explained that the offices of the Chief Justice and the Chancellor and  the Court of Appeal have had acting judges filling the position for the longest while. “And so, since both were acting they probably thought it better that they couldn’t put the full complement of justice of appeal in the court of appeal because they didn’t know how it will play out at the end of the day,” AG Williams explained further.

Nandlall contended that the High Court is overwhelmed with work because of the shortage.

The AG noted the issues of filling these positions was compounded by the secretive hiring of an overseas judge to fill the position of Justice of Appeal. “That’s why we have always insisted that positions must be advertised. There must be transparency in whatever we do,” AG Williams said. The filling of the positions is a political appointment the AG pointed out. The government is working on addressing this situation, Williams noted.

Addressing the appointment of the recommendation by the JSC, AG Williams said Nandlall was “confusing” in his statements on the President’s position to address the recommendation.

AG Williams pointed out that the government honours the separation of powers among the three arms of the state: the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. “For it to be contended that any provision in our constitution is designed to compel the head of state…must be erroneous,” AG Williams said.

Meanwhile, the AG said that the government inherited a country that was labelled “a threat, a piranha state” in the context of the international financial economy. AG Williams noted there was no political will by the former administration to address Guyana’s standing on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CFATF) watch lists.

Despite the passing of the Anti Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AMLCFT) legislation there were no investigations or charges against offenders. This was the cause for the counter measures taken by the CFATF and FATF.

It was the current government that worked to remove the country from these watch lists. In October, Guyana was removed from the FATF list and in November from the CFATF watch list.  Guyana is expected to host the next CFATF plenary in November 2017.

The AG told the National Assembly that the legal sector has seen several accomplishments in 2016. Hosting the Hague Conference on Family Law earlier this year was a “resounding success”, AG Williams said. The conference hosted 22 countries’ AGs, Chief Justices and sitting judges earlier this year. Two Guyanese judges were also added to the Hague Network of international judges.

Following the conference, Cabinet gave its approval for the country to sign onto the Hague Apostille Convention, as well as the various child protection conventions. The AG noted that a series of consultations will be done in 2017 in this respect.

The AG also highlighted the government’s success in finalising negotiations to enable 25 law graduates from the country to enter the Hugh Wooding Law School. Cabinet has approved a 25 percent total annual fees’ payment to the Hugh Wooding Law School from 2016 to 2018 “as a contribution pending the exploration of establishing a law school in Guyana.”

Meanwhile, on the 2017 budget Nandlall contends that the budget has “invigorated the country with fear and anxiety” however AG Williams countered that budget 2017 seeks to “fix the mess” that was inherited from the previous administration.

By: Tiffny Rhodius