Auditor General asks AG to pay her legal costs

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass. – Photo courtesy the Auditor General’s Department

ATTORNEY General Reginald Armour, SC, has sought legal advice as to whether or not he should pay Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass for any costs she may incur in defence of her actions regarding the preparation of her report on last year’s public financial statements.

In a pre-action protocol letter dated April 29, Freedom Law Chambers (the firm which Ramdass has chosen to represent her), set a 4 pm deadline on April 30 for Armour to indicate whether or not he would pay for Ramdass’ legal costs.

That letter was signed by attorney Aasha Ramlal.

In a signed letter dated April 30, the AG’s Secretariat gave a response on Armour’s behalf.

“I write on behalf of the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs. I hereby acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 29th April, 2024 in relation to the subject matter. Please be advised that your letter under reference has been passed to senior counsel for advice. This response is not to be understood as acceding to your request.”

Ramlal expressed disappointment in a subsequent letter to Armour.

“This is extremely unsatisfactory in light of the fact that statements by top government officials continue to be widely publicized in the media. Our client cannot reasonably be expected to idly sit by as a lame duck that is the subject of target practice for politicians.”

She said, “Given the urgency of this matter, take notice that as promised we have started drafting our client’s claim and propose to file same by 12 noon tomorrow (May 1). Rest assured, our exchange of correspondence will be disclosed to the court.”

In the April 29 letter, Ramlal claimed that Ramdass would be at a disadvantage in any legal action, given a powerful battery of attorneys who are advising the State on this matter.

That team includes Armour and attorneys Douglas Mendes, SC, Simon de la Bastide and Kendra Mark-Gordon.

The letter lists the collective years of legal experiences these attorneys have to be 128.

Ramlal said, “Given the powerful battery of lawyers advising the State, it would be tantamount to using a legal sledgehammer to batter an ant of a public officer into political submission.”

Against this background, she added, “We therefore write to enquire whether you (Armour) would be prepared to pay reasonable legal fees that would necessarily be incurred by the Auditor General for legal representation in this matter in which we have been instructed.”

Ramlal noted that the Senate was debating a motion moved by Finance Minister Colm Imbert to extend the period of time under sections 24 (1) and 25 (1) of the Exchequer and Audit Act to give Ramdass more time to prepared last year’s public financial financial statements, on April 29.

“Time is of the essence because the government’s motion is being debated today in the Senate and we are instructed that further statements have been made that are of grave concern to our client.”

Ramlal said, “We do not wish for there to be any delay that could create an inequitable window of opportunity which can be used by the Government to steal a march on our client by continuing to attack her office in circumstances where she has been rendered powerless and helpless because she is unable to properly respond with the benefit of legal advice.”

In the letter, Ramlal said Ramdass has sought legal advice on several issues.

These include the legal validity of the resolution passed by Parliament to extend the time for Ramdass to submit her report in circumstances where she has already done so, whether the cloak of parliamentary privilege could be pierced so Ramdass could sue Imbert and Armour for any defamatory statements they made against her in the parliamentary debates on the motion and what is the scope and remit of the Auditor General under the Constitution, the Exchequer and Audit Act and any other law.