Demand for services of legal aid clinic exceeds capacity
By Edlyn Benfield
Stabroek News
January 6, 2003

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The Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic (GLAC), established in March 1994, continues to receive more requests for aid than it can meet and it faces the continual problem of attracting sufficient support from donors and others.

GLAC is a non-governmental organisation which provides members of the public with free or subsidised legal advice, representation or referral for same in both civil and criminal matters.

A summary analysis of GLAC’s operations from its inception to October this year, has indicated that a total of 6,023 persons comprising 4,429 females, 1,591 males and three groups, have benefitted from the services it offers.

In a recent interview with Stabroek News, Director/ Secretary/Treasurer of the organisation’s board, Josephine Whitehead explained that GLAC deals with the protection and enforcement of civil rights. She said that initially only one attorney was working at the clinic, so its capacity to cater for a large clientele was limited, but this changed after two other lawyers joined the staff.

However, Whitehead noted, the demand for the kind of help given by GLAC continues to exceed its supply capacity. The GLAC’s work is centred in and around the city in terms of actual court representation, and extends to the Sparendaam and Providence Magistrate’s Courts. Persons from outlying areas can also receive advice from the clinic and recommendations are made for them to receive the necessary assistance from attorneys within their respective jurisdictions.

Asked how a client’s eligibility for legal aid is determined, Whitehead said a means test is carried out with each client to establish whether that person is completely unable to make payments or can pay up to 70 per cent of the fee charged by a private attorney.

Individuals who have social problems may approach the GLAC for referral to an appropriate agency and special help is available for victims of domestic violence, Whitehead stated.

GLAC receives 90 per cent of its funding from the government and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Whitehead told Stabroek News. According to White-head, through the US PL480 programme - a bilateral agreement between the two governments - some of the proceeds from the sale of wheat locally go towards the clinic.

Whitehead said twice each month, GLAC sends summary reports and financial statements to the Ministry of Finance, the Attorney General and USAID, adding that the NGO’s board (which comprises representatives of civil society) meets on a monthly basis.

She pointed out that despite receiving aid from local commercial enterprises in the form of donated equipment, including computers and books, and facilitation by the government for GLAC to occupy a section of the Maraj Building at King and Charlotte Streets rent free, recurrent expenses such as salaries, utility and telephone bills have to be covered by GLAC. Other than the attorneys, the clinic is supported by an office manager, interviewer, clerical/secretarial staff and an office assistant.

Whitehead acknowledged though that GLAC receives a small annual subvention but contended that circumstances locally “...make it very difficult for the survival of any NGO. It is the general policy of donor agencies operating in Guyana that NGOs must be self-sustaining.”

She observed that as with any NGO, the finances are precarious.

And Whitehead noted that the local donor agencies only provide project funding, adding that GLAC “ an ongoing project, and can be seen as a poverty reduction strategy. Nonetheless, it has proved impossible to find a donor agency [in Guyana] to fund Legal Aid.”

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