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AG on UFF probe: $5m paid to ‘PNM family
Close to $5 million of taxpayers’ money was paid by the Government in legal fees to people representing the State in the UFF Commission of Enquiry who were “no strangers to the PNM” and who were “part of the family, Attorney General Anand Ramlogan said in Parliament yesterday. He said of this $1,170,432 was paid to the law firm, Fitzwilliam Stone, Furness-Smith & Morgan and Stone, which the sister-in-law and brother of a former PNM government minister were partners. Ramlogan made the disclosure while answering a question on the Order Paper from Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley. The UFF Commission of Enquiry into the construction sector was appointed by President George Maxwell Richards on September 9, 2008 and was headed by Professor John UFF. A report, containing 191 recommendations, was presented in March 2010.
Among the recommendations was a further probing of a number of government projects, including the unfinished Brian Lara Stadium at Tarouba, done by the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott), a state body. Udecott was headed by Canadian Calder Hart, hired by the former Patrick Manning administration. Rowley, in his question, asked the AG to state the total cost of expenditure, paid or outstanding incurred by the Ministry of the Attorney General or any agency under its purview to facilitate the enquiry. He further asked Ramlogan to identify the recipients and state the sums paid or due for payment to each individual or entity. Ramlogan, replying, said a total of $4,799,510.31 to lawyers who included:
• Douglas Mendes— $$573,000;
• Michael Quamina— $626,750;
• Garvin Nicholas—$300,000; and,
• Kerwin Garcia— $530,000
“The names are no strangers to the other side. They are part of the family,” Ramlogan said. He said the sum of 123,144.66 pounds remains outstanding to Tom Richards and Michael Bell, as well as legal fees to other attorneys. Ramlogan said funds at the Ministry of the Attorney General for the fiscal year have been almost depleted through the payment of legal fees incurred in the UFF inquiry.
Ramlogan said it was part of the debt the People’s Partnership inherited from the last PNM administration. He told the House that by Cabinet minute of March 26, 2009, the former PNM administration approved the payment of $1,565,260 in legal fees to a range of senior and junior counsel who were to represent the state in the UFF enquiry. He said one year after the appointment of the UFF enquiry, it was discovered that the non-gazetting of the enquiry would have rendered it null and void while in full flight and another $241,887.50 were paid to the same legal team to provide advice on how to move out of that situation.
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