South lawyers: Only fair for AG to pay Auditor General’s legal fees

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

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

THE Assembly of Southern Lawyers (ASL) agrees with the position of the Attorney General to advise Auditor General Jaiwantie Ramdass to retain independent legal counsel.

ASL’s president Saira Lakhan issued the group’s position in a statement on May 1.

It is also the assembly’s position that the State should pay Ramdass’s legal fees. “…It is fair that the Attorney General should pay for same.”

“The Auditor General is an independent watchdog over the government. Her role is to audit the national accounts of the country to ensure that the figures can be verified and reconciled.

“The present controversy is one that the Attorney General himself recognised posed a serious challenge because he had already advised the Minister of Finance and hence could not also render advice to the independent Auditor General.”

Lakhan said having recognised a conflict of interest, the Attorney General “did the honourable thing by advising her (Ramdass) to get independent legal advice.”

The assembly said it was a “serious thing” for the State to issue a pre-action protocol letter to an independent office holder established by the Constitution.

“It stands to reason that if the Attorney General is going to sue her, there must be equality of arms and she is entitled to defend herself. This is an official matter and therefore the State should properly pick up the tab.”

On April 29, the Office of the Attorney General advised that AG Reginald Armour, SC, was seeking legal advice on if he should pay her costs.

However, attorney Aasha Ramlal, of Freedom Law chambers, led by former attorney general Anand Ramlogan, SC, said the AG’s position was “extremely unsatisfactory.”

The Government and the Auditor General are at loggerheads over the submission of the 2023 public financial statements to the Parliament.