Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s letter SN ‘The squabble over conflict of interest in the Audit Office is much ado about nothing’ July 13, 2012 refers. Mr. Nandlall accuses those who have taken a position on what he dubs as a “concocted” and “politically inspired” matter involving Dr. Ashni Singh as Minister of Finance and his wife Mrs. Gitanjali Singh of the Audit Office of not subjecting the relevant facts and surrounding circumstances to mature analysis.
I respond to make the following points not because I think Mr. Nandlall’s letter has any validity or merit but because of the position he holds as leader of the Bar of Guyana, and to counteract the mischief his letter created.
1. I wonder if the Attorney General considered the propriety of his public intervention in the matter, citing some weak and discarded legal authorities, while the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana is considering formal complaints over the same issues.
2. If Mr. Nandlall had apprised himself of the relevant facts he would not have misled the country about Mrs. Singh’s service at the Audit Office. She could not and did not commence her career at the Auditor General’s Office in 1992 and worked continuously since then in that office. Mr. Nandlall and his colleagues might wish to believe that everything began in 1992 but the fact is that in 2001/2, Mrs. Singh was Director, Internal Audit at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation.
3. And for Mr. Nandlall’s further information, Mrs. Singh left that position because a conflict of interest question arose.
4. For someone who prides himself on accurate and precise language, not once in his several references to Mr. Deodat Sharma did Mr. Nandlall acknowledge that the current Auditor General is an acting appointee – no trivial matter. As the country’s Attorney General tasked with advising the President and the Government, Mr. Nandlall may wish to confirm whether the holder of that important constitutional office was appointed to the acting position in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution which require the advice of the Public Service Commission.
5. Completely disregarding the principles and authorities on bias, Mr. Nandlall asserts that there is no scintilla of evidence of an actuality of conflict. May I respectfully refer Mr. Nandlall to the Pinochet extradition case in which a decision of the House of Lords was overturned after it emerged that Lord Hoffmann was a director of Amnesty International, a party to the case. A second strong House of Lords court, without Hoffmann, came to the same decision during which time the senior law lord, Lord Browne-Wilkinson, and four other law lords criticised Lord Hoffmann for flouting the basic principle that “justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done”.
6. And as for Mr. Nandlall’s “actuality of bias”, may I refer him to the case of Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company Limited No. 13-M/1999, in which Justice Carl Singh as he then was, said “whenever a test is required to be applied for the determination of allegations of bias, the test [is] whether a fair minded observer might reasonably suspect the existence of bias”. I assume Mr. Nandlall knows about Justice Singh’s ruling but I prefer not to speculate about his reason for disregarding it.
7. Amazingly and with no legal foundation to support him, Mr. Nandlall seeks to apply the practice of one profession by analogy with the written Code of another, a sin of commission that is beyond legal heresy. As an accountant and attorney-at-law I submit that Mr. Nandlall’s analogy between the legal and accounting professions is misinformed, misconceived, misleading and unworthy of the learned Attorney General. Practitioners of the two professions are subject to entirely different Codes of Ethics. Lawyers describe the circumstances under the rubric “bias”: for accountants, it is an independence issue.
In penning his letter, Mr. Nandlall must have recognised that it would be seen as self-serving and opportunistic. With that burden, he could at least have taken the time to better inform himself of all the relevant rules and apply them to the factual circumstances, as he erroneously and misleadingly accused others of not doing.