In defending the coalition Government’s out-of-court settlements – a move which Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said has caused the Treasury billions of dollars – Minister of State Joseph Harmon said Attorney General Basil Williams would have recommended these settlements after the previous Administration failed to defend the State in the respective cases.Speaking at this week’s post-Cabinet press briefing on Friday, Minister Harmon explained that Cabinet was briefed on and approved the settlements.“These are recommendations made by the Attorney General and… whether it is out of court or in the court, whatever settlements are made that requires the State to pay over any resources, it is dealt with at Cabinet and full discussions take place there. Cabinet gives its guidance to the responsible minister,” he pointed out.Of recent, Government, particularly the Attorney General’s Chambers, has come under much criticism for not being able to secure success for several cases against the State. Since taking office, in addition to losing cases, Government has opted to enter into out-of-court settlements. Among those companies to benefit from these out-of-court settlements are BK International, which cashed in on US$5.7 million on a settlement, and more recently, a $226 million settlement with Guyana Tractor Equipment (Guytrac). Additionally, local spirits giant, Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) would have also benefited from a $3.8 billion tax write-off in another out-of-court settlement.At his weekly press conference on Wednesday, Jagdeo had raised concerns about this practice, asking whether the State is deliberately losing millions of dollars in court cases.“I wonder if people are benefiting financially from all of these settlements by claiming lack of knowledge?… I probably should say I am confident; but I am saying I wonder now that it is a conduit for corrupt activities – these big judgements,” the Opposition Leader suggested.However, on Friday, the Minister of State sought to bosh the claim saying these cases started under the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) regime, which failed to defend them.Attorney General Basil WilliamsOn the other hand, the Government’s spokesperson went on to say that the present Administration wanted to uphold the rule of law by honouring those judgements delivered in the court against the State.“The matters which we settled were matters which were decided by the court and we felt that it was important to establish a regime of the rule of law, which said that we respect the judgements of courts… we cannot say that citizens who have been granted awards by the court that we can pay them.He noted that there are more cases and at the appropriate time the Attorney General will make a full statement of those matters.Among the cases which the State has lost is the one brought by local construction company, Dipcon Engineering Company at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in which Government was ordered to pay over $446 million. More recently, the State lost a case to another company, Toolsie Persaud Limited (TPL) in the local High Court and was ordered to pay $187 million.On several occasions, Attorney General Basil Williams would have blamed the fact his predecessor for dropping the ball on the cases, many of which he said were contracted out to private lawyers.However, only a few days ago, the Attorney General’s Chambers published an ad, calling on private lawyers representing the State on cases that were not handed out by him to notify the office immediately.However, the Opposition Leader questioned why such a move was made now and not three years ago when the Attorney General assumed the post.“Now he wants to know who had been doing representations on behalf of the Chambers for cases in the past and current cases… If anyone is worth his salt or even a one per cent level of competence, when you go to a desk you would say to the staff can you find out for me all the cases we have outstanding so that I could be apprised of the cases outstanding,” Jagdeo opined.Moreover, the Opposition Leader pointed out that his party had offered, through Nandlall, the coalition Administration, upon its assumption to office, assistance on many of the outstanding cases the State had in the courts. But the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change regime never accepted the offer.“They ignored the offer. He didn’t find out and then (AG Williams) blames the PPP every time there is a ruling against him,” Jagdeo said on Wednesday.Back in January, Williams had defended his performance, saying that the Chambers under his leadership has “won more than we’ve lost.”
Twenty-three-year-old Romel Bollers of Lot 120 Luthers Street, Agricola, Greater Georgetown, who is no stranger to the court has again been sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, on Wednesday, by Magistrate Dylon Bess at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts after he was found guilty of stealing a gold chain.The charge detailed that on August 22, 2018 at Agricola, Bollers snatched Tanya Drakes’s gold chain and pendant valued $80,000.Bollers had denied the charge and had been remanded to prison.According to reports, on the day in question, the Virtual Complainant was standing on the Agricola Public Road when Bollers approached her, snatched the chain, and made good his escape.The accused was previously convicted on multiple charges of robbery, serving a three-year sentence for one, while being on bail for another. During the brief trial, Bollers was unrepresented. Tracy-Ann Gittens prosecuted the case.