It was a close shave for Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Mike Sylvester as a female high court judge issued a bench warrant for him to be arrested and brought before her in connection with a million dollar suit brought against the State.
Former Attorney-General Jimmy Bristol applied for the bench warrant Monday when Sylvester failed to show up at High Court No.3 on the Carenage to account on behalf of the State for EC$ 3.8 million dollars owed to the Financial Investment and Consultancy Services Ltd (FICSL) for services provided to government.
Madam Justice Wynante Adrien-Roberts gave Sylvester a serious tongue lashing for not making an appearance the day before resulting in her taking the decision to issue a bench warrant for his arrest by the Police and to be taken to court.
The judge warned the top officer in the Ministry of Finance that “the State is like any other litigant” and his non-appearance for the matter the day before was viewed as “disrespect” to the court.
She also reminded him that he has an obligation to make appearances as ordered by the court and failure to do so will result in him being held in contempt of court.
Sylvester stood in court with a serious-look on his face as Justice Adrien-Roberts exhorted him to take the court system seriously.
Attorney for the State, Kinna Marrast-Victor presented the court with an affidavit outlining all of government’s financial commitments under the International Monetary Fund (IMF) supported Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP).
She said the State would like FICSL to take a 50% hair cut on the approximately 3.8m debt.
However, Bristol of the law firm of Henry, Henry & Bristol informed the court that they will not accept the offer and requested for the monies owed to be paid in full.
Pointing out that to date the government has not paid any monies to his client, the attorney said he finds it “disturbing” that the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government “is now saying to my client that he has to accept the 50% haircut”.
According to Bristol, this does not augur well for the country’s investment climate, and described the request from the current rulers as being “arrogant to suggest that because they say so, we have to accept..”.
“They (the government) have taken the Claimant’s money and are now saying that they do not have to repay in full because we are under a structural adjustment programme – that is not how it works”, Bristol told Justice Adrien-Roberts.
“That’s not what the Constitution says”, said the lawyer who served at one-time as Attorney-General in the 2008-13 Congress government of Tillman Thomas.
In government’s defense, Attorney Marrast-Victor reiterated the State’s position to the court as indicated in the affidavit that the cash-strapped Mitchell-led government is at this time making an offer to FICSL as it’s not in a position to pay the outstanding monies in full.
“It is an offer that is being made and it is not as counsel is suggesting -this is part of a general restructuring that has been undertaken and government is not in a position to pay”, she said.
Given that the claimant has rejected the offer, the female High Court Judge sought to find out if government had another offer to put on the table.
However, the state attorney informed the court that there is no other offer at this time.
The judge reminded the attorney that the “government has a court order” to repay the monies owed to FICSL and it must comply.
“The offer has been rejected but that doesn’t mean that the debt is going to go away”, said Madam Justice Adrien-Roberts.
“Don’t you think the next step would be to speak to the claimant’s counsel to discuss how payments can be made?
The judge then took the decision to give a short adjournment to the matter in order to allow the NNP regime to come with a payment plan.
The State requested a two-week adjournment, which was granted and as such the matter is due to recommence on July 22.
Grenada is saddled by an EC$2.8 billion debt – most of it built up during the 1995-2008 rule of Prime Minister Mitchell.
The island was forced to take measures to cut expenditure and to raise revenue through increase taxes in order to pay off its debts to creditors.