The New Today

Commentary

Contempt in compensating the former Secretary to Cabinet

In my previous two articles, I highlighted the failure of the Government to comply with the decisions of the High Court and Court of Appeal to compensate the former Secretary to Cabinet for her unconstitutional removal from the public service. The Government has now commenced a monthly payment towards the payment of the judgment debt.

It is however painful and heartbreaking to directly experience the willful actions of the Government and the supporting administrative system [thereafter referred to as the Government] against its own citizens.

On this occasion, I refer to the action of the Government, despite the full knowledge of the law, to consciously decide not to pay interest on the judgement debt to the former Secretary to Cabinet, Mrs. Gemma Bain-Thomas, a woman who has served for thirty years in the Public Service of Grenada.

This is of even greater concern as we approach another observance of International Women’s Day on 8th March 2022.

The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance and the Attorney General, in their professional capacity and as the Chief Financial and Legal Advisers to the Executive, should be quite aware of section 27A of the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court (Grenada) Act, Chapter 336 of the Continuous Revised Edition of the Laws of Grenada, [the Act] which stipulates that all judgment debts attract the payment of interest at the rate of 6% per annum.

These chief technical officers and advisers to the Executive should also be privy to the Court ruling in Grenada Claim No. GDAHCV 2013/0536, in the matter of Selwyn Smith and Christilena Smith Versus Western Balls and Company Limited and Charles Williams and Charlos Food Mart, which in reference to Section 27A of the Act pointed out the following:

i. The Act provides for the automatic attachment of post-judgment interest at the statutory rate.

ii. Section (3) states until it is satisfied, every judgment debt shall bear interest at such rates as the High Court may determine and in the absence of such determination, the rate of interest shall be six per cent per annum.

iii. Section (4) stipulates that unless otherwise ordered by the court, the rate of interest shall be calculated from the time of the giving of the relevant judgment ……..

In the ruling, it was explained that delays in the payment of judgment debt can force the judgment creditor either to borrow money or to use his personal funds which could have been deployed profitably for other interests. An award of interest seeks to compensate for the loss occasioned as a result of the delay in payment.

The law is clear and precise; and the Government is well aware of its obligations to creditors under the laws of Grenada.

Therefore, to take a unilateral decision not to pay interest on the judgement debt, after withholding the Court awarded compensation for almost four years is, in my opinion, conniving, willful and malicious.

By refusing to recognise and commit to paying the interest on the judgement debt, the Government is deliberately delaying the settlement of the issue of the compensation to the former Secretary to Cabinet for another decade.

The only option for seeking a remedy for this situation is to return to the judicial system.

The Government is quite aware that this is a time consuming process. It is mentally and financially costly to the senior public officer, and because of the tight web between the Executive and the administrative system, it would take another decade to resolve the issue.

It is therefore in the interest of the Government to return to the judicial system as it has nothing to lose.

The Government abuses the mandate given to it and uses taxpayers monies and the technical resources of the civil service to fight against its citizens and the same taxpayers. All the costs to the Government associated with its defense in the Court and   arising from a Court’s decision are borne by the taxpayers.

The financial burden is wholly on the population and is generally manifested through increased taxation and/or reduced public goods and services.

While the Government has the power to withhold monies owing to individuals and not pay interest on this, taxpayers do not enjoy similar privileges. Taxpayers, particularly of income tax and Value Added Tax [VAT], are required to adhere to the schedule for registration and filing or they could be subjected to penalties such as the payment of fines, confiscation of assets and confinement.

In addition, taxes owed to the Government attract penalties and interest after the due date for payment.

If property tax is not paid by 29 August, a penalty of twenty (20) percent is added to the outstanding tax and a monthly interest rate of 1.5 percent is applied to the tax liability. Outstanding Value Added Tax [VAT] is subject to a penalty interest rate of 1.5 percent per month.

In statutory bodies and state-owned enterprises, non-payment for utilities such as water and electricity is subject to disconnection, and a reconnection fee is required to restore the service.

In the financial sector, default on debt repayment is subject to the payment of interest on the arrears and/or the forfeiture of collateral.

The Government which is responsible for ensuring that the public adhere to the laws of the land is itself breaching these laws.

So, while the Government has powers to demand resources from the public, the same Government is denying citizens of their needed financial resources.

This deliberate decision by the Government to breach the law and deny this former senior public officer of financial resources legally due to her could only be described as “highway robbery in broad daylight”.

The principles of ‘Good Government’ no longer obtain when the Government could engage in injustices against its own citizens. The struggles for justice are real when:

i. The Government forces public officers to pay to fight for their constitutionally due pension and gratuity when it uses public funds to either pay private lawyers and/or use public officers to defend its position.

In the meantime, retired public officers, after many years of service, are left to live and die in poverty.

ii. Public officers have to demonstrate for the Government to honour its agreement to pay the four (4) percent salary increase, while the Government argued that there are no funds.

The Government then contracts a loan to pay the arrears of salaries, in the form of bonds, which attract interest of three (3) percent, thereby increasing the debt burden which will have to be borne by taxpayers.

Then, within four months of contracting this loan, there was the pronouncement of the availability of $83.6M in reserves.

In the case of the former Secretary to Cabinet, after almost a decade of administrative maneuvering, eight years in the judicial system and almost four years without a monthly salary, the Government has decided to pay the awarded compensation over a period of three years.

Contrary to the law, the Government has not included accrued interest in the amount it intends to pay and has not entered into a formal agreement for the settlement of the court awarded compensation, which is the norm for any reputable organisation.

In the first instance, the Government withheld the compensation and continues to hold the outstanding balance, and while not responding to correspondences on the matter has decided that it would not be honouring its statutory obligation to pay interest on this judgement debt.

Should a remedy be sought through the judicial system, this will mean the continued maneuvering of the political and the supporting administrative system to further delay payment and could only serve to increase the liability of the government and ultimately the financial burden on the population.

Since this is a Christian nation and decisions should be consistent with the Christian conscience, I recommend the establishment of the Grenada Christian Conscience Committee [GCCC] comprising persons of integrity, fair-mindedness, and fearlessness who are drawn from religious organisations; civil society; the legal, medical, and accounting fraternity and government finance experts.

The mandate of the GCCC would be to examine the actions the Government have taken against public officers and determine whether the Government needs psychological therapy or solitary confinement or a combination of psychological therapy and solitary confinement.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. (Martin Luther King Jr).

Laurel Bain is a Grenadian-born former economist with the St. Kitts-based Eastern Caribbean Central Bank