AG dismisses questions over rationale behind action
Bar Association Conference controversy…more concerned about constitutional challenge caseFollowing his threats of salary cuts and warnings, Attorney General (AG) and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams was dismissive when questioned about his staff being disallowed from attending a two-day Oil and Gas Law Conference, organised by the Guyana Bar Association (GBA).It was late last week that judges, magistrates and lawyers from across the country gathered for discussions aimed at exploring the legal framework of the oil and gas sector.However, legal practitioners attached to the AG’s Chambers and Legal Affairs Ministry were warned not to attend the event.Guyana Times contacted the Minister to garner the reasoning behind his decision to implement such a policy, especially when he was overseas, but the AG, in the brief interview, avoided the questions, having observed that he was more focused on preparations for the constitutional challenge case at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).“I wasn’t in the country…right now I’m preparing for the CCJ, so I can’t get distracted. Right now, you can’t ask me that, I am looking after CCJ and the third term,” Williams told this newspaper. After this brief disclosure, he discontinued the conversation.The conference was the brainchild of acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards. However, in a memorandum dated March 8, 2018 that was placed in the office, staffers were barred from attending the Conference without the permission of the AG and Legal Affairs Minister.The notice, which was seen by this newspaper, stated, “Please be informed that ‘no staff’ is permitted to attend the Guyana Oil and Gas Law Training Development Conference event hosted by the Guyana Bar Association on Friday 9th March, 2018 without the permission of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister.” The memo, which was in the name of acting Permanent Secretary Tamika Barkoye, had further warned staffers that their salaries would be cut if they did not adhere to the order.“Please note that absence from work will result in salary deduction,” the memo added.Guyana Times had made efforts to contact the Legal Affairs Ministry’s PS for a comment and further clarification on the matter, but she was “unavailable”.This publication reported that the Minister’s move might have been because the organisers of the Conference did not facilitate his schedule when hosting the event. The GBA is headed by Attorney-at-Law Kamal Ramkarran.Several of Minister Williams’ Cabinet colleagues, who are also legal practitioners, attended the opening of the Conference: Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman; acting Prime Minister and Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan and Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.Minister Trotman had delivered a detailed presentation on the oil and gas sector, touching on the ExxonMobil contract, oil discoveries and the Guyana-Venezuela border controversy.