By Carl Joseph
Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan is readying the government’s defence against a claim being made by HMB Holdings to garnish funds from its bank accounts and shares from the National Asset Management Company (NAMCO).
Attorney for HMB Holdings, John Carrington QC, has made two applications for a garnishee order in order to settle an outstanding US $20 million debt for compulsorily acquired land in 2007.
Carrington is seeking to use a case law from a decision found against the government in Grenada in June 2019.
In that case, the applicants obtained judgment in the sum of $58,250 against the Government of Grenada. After the government failed to promptly satisfy the judgment, the applicants secured a provisional garnishee order to freeze and attach funds belonging to the government in order to satisfy the debt.
Lead attorney for the Government of Antigua and Barbuda in the case against HMB Holdings, Senior Counsel Anthony Astaphan said that, “the judge is going to have to make a decision as to whether or not that Grenadian case applies [in this case].”
Astaphan said that Justice Godfrey Smith, though allowing the garnishee order to be executed in the 2019 judgement, limited the scope of the order to “non-essential moveable properties”.
“I can’t imagine, the government’s bank accounts and their shareholdings in significant corporations that are providing services to the state would be considered non-essential,” Astaphan argued.
The senior counsel further stated that the Grenadian case, “did not give a carte blanche or green light to just charge any property or any accounts or any shares that you think might be in your best personal interest to charge”.
The application filed by HMB holdings will be heard on March 18, 2020 and Astaphan indicted that the state will make the case that both the government’s shares in NAMCO and its bank accounts are “essential”.
The attorney said that since 2015, the financial secretary, the deputy financial secretary, the debt manager in the Ministry of Finance have all filed affidavits indicating that the present fiscal condition of the government “makes it impossible” to satisfy the $20 million debt in one lump sum payment.
If the government is forced to make this lump sum payment through the court order, Astaphan said they may very well have to, “make a decision as to whether they don’t pay civil servants for three months in order to meet a debt that has already been met in large measure already”.
He indicated that they will argue that the Grenadian precedent should not be used in this instance when the matter is ultimately heard. Should the order be granted, the government has already committed to appealing the decision all the way to the Privy Council.