As the commentary on the lack of compensation for the former Secretary to Cabinet, Mrs. Gemma Bain-Thomas continues, it is necessary to iterate that the public service should be branded for its professionalism, and this must always be pursued. Being a bureaucracy, the public officers (persons who work within the public service) must operate within the confines of the laws and are governed by rules and regulations.
Recently, there was a turn of events in the payment of the court awarded compensatory damages to the former Secretary to Cabinet, Mrs. Gemma Bain-Thomas. The seemingly hurried and ad hoc approach in transacting with the former senior public officer breached the principles of professionalism in the delivery of public service.
After writing my previous article on ‘No Compensation for the former Secretary to Cabinet’, and its circulation on the evening of Tuesday 21st December 2021 to local Newspapers for publication, the former Secretary to Cabinet received a telephone call on the morning of Wednesday 22nd, December 2021 from an officer in the Ministry of Finance asking her to come to the Ministry to collect a cheque.
This occurred despite the letters to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance between April and December, including a demand to pay letter from her lawyer dated 16th December 2021; with no acknowledgement or response.
The cheque represents less than 10 percent of the amount owing to the former Secretary to Cabinet.
According to the covering letter from the Permanent Secretary, the amount on the cheque represented the first instalment for the settlement of the court awarded compensation. However, no reference was made to the Certificate from the Registrar that was served on the Permanent Secretary following the Court ruling of 2nd March 2021.
The cheque was prepared without any communication or consultation with the former Secretary to Cabinet; with no agreement on the amount of the outstanding debt, taking into consideration that interest would have accrued on the debt. No information was provided on how the amount on the cheque (first instalment) was determined and how and when the amount outstanding would be paid. This was highly unprofessional.
Professionalism in providing public service must always be maintained. Even in the informal financial arrangement, known as ‘Sou Sou’, there is not a written agreement, but the participants operate with consensus among themselves. There is a common agreement of the amount to be contributed (the hand) by each participant, and sometimes unwritten, a schedule for the payment to each participant.
There is a high element of trust and deviations from the schedule are addressed through negotiation. The Executive of the Government and the technical officers in the Ministry of Finance should learn from the principles of the ‘Sou Sou’ system; and with the higher technical skills, should operate at a superior level.
Specifically, the technical officers are constantly engaged with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) that provide guidelines on fiscal and debt management issues. This is combined with the training on financial management that is provided by the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC).
Also, Grenada benefited from over ten (10) years of technical support on debt management from the Canadian sponsored Debt Management Advisory Service (DMAS) Unit which was located at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB). The knowledge exists within the Ministry of Finance to address a simple judgement debt professionally.
Additionally, the Executive of the Government and the technical officers in the Ministry of Finance routinely negotiate with creditors. These entities are not treated in the callous manner as in the case of the former Secretary to Cabinet. There is consultation and an Agreement on the amount of the debt and the terms and conditions for the repayment of the debt. Then there is a schedule of payment, and this is agreed by all parties. The decision is sealed by the signatures to the Agreement.
The administration decided to treat the former Secretary to Cabinet different from other creditors. The approach to making a first instalment, without the necessary communication and additional information, was not only unprofessional but was disrespectful to the former Secretary to Cabinet.
The payment of the judgement debt to WRB was not managed in such a callous manner. The Government negotiated an Agreement with WRB and honoured the Agreement with an immediate and substantial payment.
Considering the pool of knowledge among the Executive of the Government and the technical officers in the Ministry of Finance, the situation seems to be a skillful act to play ‘hide and seek’ with the judicial system by manoeuvring the administrative system. The ultimate objective seems to be to avoid the payment of the debt and to financially embarrass the former Secretary to Cabinet.
It is almost a decade since this skillful manoeuvring has been ongoing. It is time for the conscience of the Christian nation to bear on the situation and bring closure to the matter. This requires that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, who according to law and decisions of the Court, is responsible for the payment of the debt, consults with the former Secretary to Cabinet on the amount of the outstanding debt, and together establish a payment plan.
This would not only be a display of professionalism but a respect to the decision of the judiciary. It appears that, in practice, the Executive could easily ignore the rulings of the judiciary making it difficult for citizens to obtain justice. This behaviour seems to be creeping into the public service, thereby creating a tightly knitted web.
To enforce a Court Order, there may be no alternative but to return to the judicial system. However, as demonstrated with the former Secretary to Cabinet, the Government and its administrative system ultimately decide on the payment of the compensation and could engage in skillful manoeuvrings of payments.
On the return to Court on 28th January 2021 by the former Secretary to Cabinet to enforce the High Court Order for the payment of the compensation, the ‘hide and seek’ played by the Government with the judicial system was vividly displayed. After almost three years of withholding the court approved and constitutionally due compensation, the Attorney General successfully argued that the Crown Proceedings Act had to be followed prior to proceeding to the Court for the enforcement order.
The need to adhere to the Crown Proceedings Act was reinforced by the Acting Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance who in his sworn affidavit confirmed that a Certificate from the Registrar was not served. In compliance with the High Court ruling, the Certificate from the Registrar was served on the Permanent Secretary in April 2021. Despite the rigorous arguments in the Court by the Attorney General and the Acting Permanent Secretary, of the necessity of the Certificate from the Registrar, there was no acknowledgement of receipt of the Certificate or response to the follow-up reminders for the payment of the compensation.
After the Court proceedings and the judgment of the Court, the Crown Proceedings Act became null and void to these public officers. The saying: ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’ became alive.
Another argument put forward to the Court by the Acting Permanent Secretary, was the inability of the Government to make large lump sum payments. This argument was eroded as within two weeks of this sworn statement of 7th December 2021 and prior to the court hearing, a huge payment of approximately $170M was made for the repurchase of the WRB shares in GRENLEC.
This Court proceeding of 28th January and the ruling of the High Court Judge of 2nd March 2021 concluded the legal cycle and the administrative manoeuvrings recommenced. The tight web created proved difficult to penetrate. The former Secretary to Cabinet, has been battling with a vicious administrative cycle for almost a decade with eight of these years in the judicial system. This could be daunting.
It takes strength, determination, and courage to stand up to the State for almost a decade to protect constitutional rights and provisions. It is now time to bring closure to this long outstanding decision of the OECS Court of Appeal by formalising the payment of the Court awarded compensation through consultation with the former Secretary to Cabinet.
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