All legal expenses to be reviewed, says Trinidad attorney general

Port of Spain, Trinidad — Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi estimates about TT$1 billion (US$160 million) in legal fees were paid to attorneys by state enterprises and ministries in Trinidad and Tobago during the People’s Partnership administration’s tenure, with million-dollar sums paid to some, including one attorney who was paid $60 million and $1.3 million earned by another who was “eight months out of law school.”

Speaking in this week’s 2016 Budget debate, Al-Rawi said, from now on, senior counsel will only be used where required with junior attorneys, and all expenses will be reviewed. He said payment will be based on “quantum meruit” and vouching for hours of work done.

The attorney general did not identify any of the lawyers who benefitted under the previous administration.

Al-Rawi said the ministry of the attorney general, justice and legal affairs collectively received $5 billion in the last five years. He said taxpayers should know what value for money was obtained for this and what benefits were accrued for an estimated $13 billion spent (under sectoral heads) over the same period. He said there was a lot of room for improving efficiency by improving spending efficiency.

Al-Rawi noted the sum of $444 million had been identified in the last term as legal fee payments by one ministry alone between 2010 – 2015 for lawyers who were not full time.

He also sought a list of legal fees for 107 state enterprises and after initial review received a report from 60.

The sum spent by the 60 was $292.2 million in legal fees and of the 22 ministries now existing under the new administration, a handful reported legal fees ranging from $1.9 million to $155.3 million, he added.

He estimated total legal fees would be around $900 million for the five years and “conservatively” would eventually total about $1 billion when all other state enterprises reported.

Al-Rawi said in his first week at the ministry, he found 100 large garbage bags filled with shredded documents — government property — piled to the ceiling.

He added: “Up to now I can’t get an explanation why the shredders were at work over the weekend and why it was done that weekend, no one knows who shredded it…”

Al-Rawi said he has instructed attorneys to write former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, past national security minister John Sandy, the past AG and retired DCP Mervyn Richardson to give evidence regarding a report of an alleged assassination attempt on PP MPs. He said if they didn’t respond they would be subpoenaed and “treated as hostile witnesses.”

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