Auditor General heads to court to get independent lawyers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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

AUDITOR General Jaiwantie Ramdass has filed a lawsuit surrounding the constitutional impasse involving her report of the public accounts of Trinidad and Tobago for the financial year 2023.

The claim was filed in the High Court on May 7. It asks the court for an urgent hearing.Ramdass is seeking several declarations, including her right to protection of the law and her right not to be deprived of such procedural provisions as necessary.

She claims she is entitled to retain and instruct counsel of her choice to advise and/or represent the Office of the Auditor General in any matter where there is a dispute with the government.The lawsuit contends that she has reasonable grounds to believe that the Attorney General cannot render independent legal advice and representation.

However, the lawsuit says the Attorney General is required to bear the reasonable costs for her lawyers.

The claim also points to alleged phone calls from a senior government official on the “missing $3.4 billion dollars in the national accounts that were presented to her.”

The claim added, “This telephone call left the claimant with an uneasy feeling.”

She alleged that on November 30, 2023, she received another phone call from the same official about the report on the financial statements of the Heritage and Stabilization Fund (HSF) for the year ended September 30, 2023.

She claimed she later received a letter on January 31 on her financial statements for the HSF calling on her to reconsider her opinion, but did not accede to the request.

Her claim also gives details of the error in the public accounts which has since been made public.

“Given the magnitude of the alleged error in the national accounts, the shifting of the financial goalpost to the lower revenue figure and the significant amount of revenue that could not be accounted for, the claimant was very concerned about these unexpected and unprecedented developments.

“She was also unclear as to whether she could lawfully receive and audit these new or amended accounts because the act did not make provision for the submission of any other accounts after the statutory deadline of January 31, 2024.”

She claims she was reluctant to accept them because she was in uncharted waters and there was no precedent to guide her.

“Furthermore, the audit had been completed and this would completely railroad the hard work of her department in accomplishing this herculean task within the prescribed time to allow for printing and binding and timely submission to the various offices as mandated by the Constitution.”

Parliament has since extended the time for the laying of the Auditor General’s report.

On Tuesday, the Finance Ministry also announced a two-man investigative team to probe what took place. The team is led by retired High Court Judge David Harris.

Ramdass is represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, UK attorney Jodie Blackstop, Kent Samlal, Natasha Bisram and Aasha Ramlal.