One year and three months into the Commission of Enquiry into collapsed insurance giant CLICO, the Minister of Finance has fired the team of lawyers who were representing the ministry, sources confirmed yesterday.
Information reaching the Sunday Express indicated that the team which was headed by Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein and Michael Quamina, were given their marching orders last week. They had been hired during Winston Dookeran's tenure at the Finance Ministry.
They have been replaced by Seenath Jairam SC leading Jagdeo Singh and Joseph Toney.
Jairam is president of the Law Association.
Singh who has been the beneficiary of a number of State briefs, is also the junior attorney for the Commission in the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 coup attempt.
Toney is chairman of the Congress of the People, a member of the People's Partnership government.
Hosein yesterday confirmed that he is no longer counsel to the Ministry of Finance.
"My services have been terminated. No reason was given. And it has been terminated summarily, full stop."
Hosein has had a long history with the Ministry on the CLICO matter.
Hosein was retained by the Ministry of Finance in February 2009 following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between CLICO and the government.
He had been retained to advise the ministry where it should go from there.
In March 2009, he was retained to file an injunction to prevent former CLICO chairman Lawrence Duprey from selling the shares in the CL Financial group's methanol company.
At that time, the People's National Movement (PNM) was in office.
When the People's Partnership announced there would be an enquiry into CLICO, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance invited Hosein to join her team to appear for the ministry, sources said yesterday.
But it is understood that over the last two years attempts had been made by an influential legal figures to dispose of Hosein's services and hire a new team.
"Something is going wrong in the country. Something should be done to protect independent counsel from this kind of political harassment," one source stated.
A client is fully entitled to change its legal team at any time, for any reason.
However, sources yesterday questioned the economic rationale of the move.
"There are hundreds of thousands of papers and documents (from the CLICO Enquiry), if somebody has to get into this case at this stage and have to be paid a new fee on brief, you have to make a whole new set of money arrangements, it is just plain wasteful. Every hour these new lawyers have to spend reading over the documents, adds to the cost," one legal source stated, adding: "It does not make any economic sense."
Sources said no reason was given for taking away the brief. And there had been no indication that the ministry had any concerns about the manner in which the previous attorneys were handling the case, sources added.
It is understood the ministry has retained as the instructing attorney, Ashmead Ali and Co.
The enquiry, which began in July 2011, has been going on for over a year and is due to be completed in May next year. The Commission resumes on October 22 when the change of attorneys will become evident. The Commission is supposed to spend three days on the Hindu Credit Union, before returning to ClICO on October 25 or 26.
Sources said over the past year-and-a-half there had been a lot of redistribution of legal work at the level of the Government.
The redistribution has been comprehensive, covering most State agencies, they added.
"I understand political preference in the redistribution of work. But it has never been this rapacious or savage. It is usually confined to matters in which the State itself is a party as opposed to State Enterprises. But every State enterprises, big and small, is now affected," a source stated, adding that the distribution of legal work was now almost like a special purpose State company in which both the choice of attorneys and the legal fees are being approved by a central source. It is a huge talking point within the legal profession right now, the source stated.
Neither Quamina nor Singh could be reached for comment yesterday.
Toney, asked to comment on this point of view, said he was not in a position to say anything about that.
"From 2002 to 2010 (the years when the PNM was in office) I got no work from the State. Absolutely no work. Nothing! In fact there was one group of lawyers who got all the work. And nobody (from the media) called me. So I thought you called me to congratulate me that I have been able to get a bit of work," he said.
On the acquisition of the CLICO brief, Toney said: "I am a lawyer, I look for legal work and once I get work, I would accept if I have the time."