Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
The justice ministry has found itself with two bills totalling more than $200 million that it did not budget for, and the creditors are demanding their money.
Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding has confirmed that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) is demanding outstanding payments for rental of the Jamaica Conference Centre (JCC) while fees owed to the Norman Manley Law School since 2008 are also past due.
Golding said it was recently brought to his attention that the UDC is seeking his assistance in having the ministry pay up.
"I can't tell you offhand what the figure is, but I know it's more than $100 million that is owed for rental of the Jamaica Conference Centre for court sittings," Golding told The Sunday Gleaner.
"It took me completely by surprise when it was brought to my attention recently that that this balance is outstanding," added Golding.
At least two High Court sittings were held at the JCC, which was also the site of a dramatic commission of enquiry in 2011, which probed issues surrounding the extradition request for former Tivoli Gardens don, Christopher 'Dudus' Coke, and the hiring of the American law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips to intervene in the matter.
Golding could not say if the bill for the JCC includes payment for the time of the enquiry.
"Good question. But I really can't tell you if the figure includes rental for the period over which the commission of enquiry was held," said Golding.
"It was brought to my attention in September, and it was up to date to that month. The landlord (UDC) is requesting of us that we find the funds to pay, so we are going to have discussion with the UDC and the Ministry of Finance about how we deal with it."
BILL BROUGHT FORWARD
According to Golding, a large part of the bill was brought forward from previous financial years, plus what has accumulated since the start of the 2012-2013 financial year.
The amount owed to the Norman Manley Law School has a similar ring.
"There is a big accumulated balance owing to the Norman Manley Law School, which was brought to my attention last week.
"Again, it is my understanding that since academic year 2008, the school is owed a total of $113 million, and it includes balances from previous years which have accumulated to that total," he explained.
Golding said the outstanding money is part of the Government's budgetary contribution to the law school.
"The contributions may not be paid in full and it has kept accumulating since 2008. As a result, the ministry's finances are now being impacted by these bills from the prior Government," he stated.
DEBT NEWS TO CHUCK
However, Delroy Chuck, the man who headed the justice ministry immediately prior to Golding, told The Sunday Gleaner that the reports of the accumulated debt to the UDC was news to him.
"It's the first I am hearing that. I have never really been involved in that," said Chuck.
According to Chuck, the two courts which sit at the JCC could not have accumulated such a huge bill.
Chuck, an attorney-at-law and former law lecturer, said he was also not aware of the debt to the law school.
"It's the first I'm hearing that, too. To be frank, I am not surprised that the different ministries owe these sums of money because over the last many years, Government has always been in backlog of payment, not only on judgments, but also to jurors, and also to the different institutions. It's a fact of life," said Chuck.