Team to probe corruption in magistracy By Mark Ramotar
Guyana Chronicle
February 5, 2002

`I have absolutely no doubt that (magistrates) are involved, absolutely no doubt' - Dr. Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat

A JOINT investigative team, like those already investigating alleged widespread corruption and financial impropriety at the Deeds and the Supreme Court registries, has been appointed to probe similar allegations in the magistracy and which involve some magistrates, a top Government official announced yesterday.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat and Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, told a news conference that the team comprising representatives of the Auditor General's Department, the Accountant General's Department and the Criminal Investigative Department (CID) of the Police Force will be working in collaboration to investigate the allegations.

He said many ordinary Guyanese have complained to the Government, the Chancellor, Chief Magistrate and the Judicial Service Commission "about the irregular, unlawful and corrupt practices of Magistrates all over the length and breadth of this country (and) this has been going on for quite some time."

"In the magistracy, corrupt practices have been uncovered and over and over, these have been brought to public attention," he told reporters at his regular post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the President.

He said too that the "poor work ethic and the corrupt practices" which were uncovered have been a subject of public notice or information for quite some time.

Luncheon referred to what has been seen and what is being further investigated and pointed out that there has been an "alarming loss of State revenue arising from unsavory financial practices in the collection of fines, bail and such like".

"The most celebrated instance of also corrupt practices involves the Georgetown Magisterial District where unbelievably, millions, literally millions of dollars of revenue mysteriously disappeared and cannot be accounted for and very occasionally, revealed to have been swindled, to have been stolen, by the lesser minions in the magistracy," Luncheon said.

Asked whether magistrates have been found or observed being involved in corrupt practices, Luncheon said: "I have absolutely no doubt that they are involved, absolutely no doubt."

In this regard, he noted that the Government has joined a large number of "commentators of such things" who have pronounced on corrupt practices in the justice administration.

Luncheon, however, said it was unfortunate that the Government's initiative to have the main Opposition People's National Congress Reform (PNC/R) involved in the investigation "was unrewarded".

The PNC/R has reportedly turned down a request from the administration to participate in ongoing audits in the judicial administration, particularly an audit of the Supreme Court Registry.

"We are pressing ahead with our investigation. I think it is a topical matter and is of such importance that the disinclination of the Opposition to participate could not be allowed to frustrate our efforts to identify the nature and those responsible for corrupt practices," Luncheon said.

"We have appointed an investigative team to be involved in the investigation, involving the Auditor General, the CID and such like and we are moving ahead."

According to Luncheon, the information from the investigation would be provided to the Judicial Service Commission and to other relevant bodies for them to take the necessary action.

Luncheon also announced that Cabinet at its last meeting approved of (commencement) salary increases for State Counsel and State Prosecutors in the Attorney General's Chambers, the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and for Magistrates.

He recalled that during the latter part of 2001, the Government and legal officers had discussed conditions of service. To that end, a special committee was established and had commenced work on arriving at a resolution of that matter, he said.

He said that when the committee last met, it submitted recommendations to Cabinet for approval.

"Cabinet has finally endorsed the committee's recommendations thereby ending, hopefully, the prolonged issue of the conditions of service of the legal officers in Government and State entities," Luncheon said.

He told reporters that in its deliberations, Cabinet recalled that the prolonged delay had led to abortive industrial unrest in the latter part of 2001 by some State Prosecutors in the DPP's Chambers. He also recalled the exhortations by successive Chancellors and the Magistrates themselves to have their conditions addressed.

"Cabinet is not unmindful of the view that the poor work ethic and the corrupt practices uncovered in the magistracy were probably related to the issue of poor remuneration," he said.

He said that consequently, Cabinet endorsed the recommendation for salary increases - mainly the `commencement salary' of the entering positions of State Counsel and State Prosecutors in the Attorney General's Chambers and the DPP Chambers, respectively - to be increased from July 1, 2001 to $110,330 a month. The endorsement also extended for the commencement salaries for all other higher posts in both chambers being increased by $25,000 per month from the same date.

In the magistracy, Luncheon said Cabinet has endorsed several increases which will be in effect from December 1, 2001.

The commencement salary for Magistrates will now be $204,050; the salary per month for Senior Magistrates has been increased to $226,723; the salary for Principal Magistrates has gone up to $262,208; and for the Chief Magistrate, the salary has been increased to $277,188 per month.

Luncheon said the current commencement salary for State Counsel and State Prosecutors entering the service is about $80,000 to $85,000 per month, while for the magistracy it is probably in the region of $140,000 to $150,000 per month.

The Public Service Ministry will retain the responsibility for establishing the conditions of service of legal officers in the Attorney General's Chambers and the Office of the DPP while the Office of the President would retain the same responsibility for all other legal officers of the Government and State, he said.

Luncheon less than two weeks ago announced that joint teams from the Auditor General's Department, the Accountant General's Department and the CID had been deployed at the Supreme Court and Deeds registries to probe allegations of widespread corruption.

This announcement was made after Cabinet endorsed recommendations from a high-level crisis management meeting at the Presidential Secretariat that looked at setting up mechanisms to stem the tide of corruption and enhance the efficiency of the two agencies.