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Finance Minister, worried about imprisonment, appeals High Court decision in favour of Dipcon

Finance Minister, Winston Jordan.

Finance Minister Winston Jordan, who admitted that he was worried that he could be locked up for 21 days for failing to pay Dipcon Engineering Services Limited US$2.2 million based on court orders, on Monday appealed the High Court’s decision.

“I would be worried if I am to be locked up under any circumstance whether it is in my personal capacity, official…I am not a gangster or a mobster or anything who is prepared to go to jail,” he told a news briefing in response to a question by Demerara Waves Online News.

Noting that he is a “public servant at heart” who never expected that he would have been faced with the possibility of being jailed, Jordan declared “I didn’t expect coming at this stage of my life that I would be threatened with locking up, contempt motions and so on for matters that I have no responsibility for.”

He said also up for consideration is President David Granger possibly issuing an executive order to grant a short period of relief pending the hearing of the appeal. Jordan declined to say whether he would pay the Trinidad construction company, but instead preferred to await the outcome of the next leg of court action. “If that judgement were to be paid today, it will be in excess of 700 million dollars at a time when we are struggling to pay teachers and public servants,” he said.

Through a battery of lawyers headed by Attorney General Basil Williams, the Finance Minister wants the High Court to grant orders for leave to file an appeal, setting aside a refusal for a stay of execution, and an interim stay of execution of a judgement for him to pay US$2,228,400.67 to Dipcon on or before July 8. 

That amount is in addition to 6 percent per year from October 21, 2015 to February 10, 2019 and thereafter at a rate of 4 percent annually until fully paid and costs in the sum of $1,200,000 awarded against government by Justice Rishi Persaud, together with $3 million in costs to Dipcon Engineering and in default Winston Jordan be committed to be jailed for 21 days until hearing and determination of the motion.

The Finance Minister wants an “order treating the hearing of this application as urgent and a further order for an expedited hearing of the application.”

I have been advised by my Attorneys-at-law and do verily believe that the Honourable Madam Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry erred and was misconceived in law when she refused to grant the stay of the order for contempt to permit the State and Government of Guyana to pursue in law the process of Appeal,” he said in court papers seen by Demerara Waves Online News.

On July 5 the Full Court comprising Justice Diana Insanally and Justice Simone Morris-Ramlall refused the application for a stay of execution of the judgement of Justice Sewnarine-Beharry made on June 24, 2019 on the ground that the Applicant/Intended Appellant did not have good prospects of success of the Appeal.

The Finance Minister said his lawyers advised him that the judgement of the Full Court was erroneous because it erred and misdirected itself in law when it restricted the Applicant/Intended Appellant’s Attorney-at-Law to only argue one ground for a stay of execution, that is to say, whether the appeal had good prospects of success; prevented them from relying on the Affidavit of Dale Browne in support of the Application for a stay of execution, when it ordered that Winston Jordan being sued in his personal capacity, notwithstanding still being Minister of Finance could not be represented by the Attorney General, pursuant to the provisions of the State Liability and Proceedings Act Chapter 6:05 of the Laws of Guyana, when the Court ruled that the State had no meritorious Appeal when in fact the threshold was for the State to prove that prima facie it had a good arguable case for the grant of a stay of execution, and when it did not consider that High Court action was an application for judicial review against a public officer and therefore fell within the realm of public law, and in fact the Respondents therein were the Attorney General of Guyana and Minister of Finance in their official capacities as against their private capacity.

Other grounds are that the Full Court erred and misdirected itself in law when the Court refused to grant the stay of the execution of the order for contempt made by Justice Sewnarine-Beharry on the 24th June, 2019 when it prevented the Applicant/Intended Appellant from addressing the Court on all of the elements which ought to be considered for the grant of a stay of execution; when it did not consider as tending to good prospect of success the fact that Justice Sewnarine-Beharry erred and misdirected herself in law when she exercised jurisdiction and proceeded to hear the Application for contempt against the Finance Minister in his private and personal capacity for monies alleged to be owed by the State and Government of Guyana, when it did not consider as tending to good prospect of success the fact that Justice Sewnarine-Beharry erred and misdirected herself in law when she improperly proceeded with the hearing of an application for contempt against Jordan in his personal and private capacity when no action, cause, judgement, order or proceedings was made or issued in the personal name of Winston Jordan, and when it did not consider as tending to good prospect of success the fact that Justice Sewnarine-Beharry erred and misdirected herself in law when she failed to appreciate that contempt proceedings were coercive in nature and that such an order could not be made against the officer of the State but in particular against the Winston Jordan privately when no act was done by Winston Jordan in his private capacity for contempt to prevail against him.

Other lawyers representing the Finance Minister are Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, Roysdale Forde, Mayo Robertson, Maxwell Edwards, Ms. Deborah Kumar, Mrs. Beverley Bishop-Cheddie,  Rommel St Hill, and Ms. Ayana McCalman.

The Finance Minister feared that if the High Court’s judgement was upheld, other ministers, who are public officials, could be sued or made to pay judgements in their personal capacity. “This is not Winston Jordan who owes Dipcon. I have never contracted a service from Dipcon and I feel personally offended that an action can be brought in my personal capacity to pay a judgement for the State,” he said.

A number of court-ordered judgements, he said, that were being paid by the Granger-led government were inherited from the “lawless action” of the previous government. In the case of an order by the court for the State to pay US$11.3 million, and $416,223,336 to NH International in joint venture with Emile Elias and Company Ltd, he noted that the then government had failed to provide a representative at the arbitration. “…that… is the height of recklessness that has now saddled this government with a huge multi-billion dollar judgement that has to be paid…,” he said.