The New Today

Commentary

No compensation for the former Secretary to Cabinet

After giving thirty (30) years to the Public Service of Grenada, and for almost a decade of being embroiled with the administration and in the judicial system for the protection of a constitutional provision, the former Secretary to Cabinet, Mrs. Gemma Bain-Thomas, is yet to receive the Court awarded compensatory damages. Reverting to the judicial system seems to be the only option available to the former Secretary to Cabinet to secure the court awarded compensation.

This article, Part I, commences a commentary on the ongoing administrative and legal struggles of the former Secretary to Cabinet to be duly compensated for the unconstitutional action of the Government. It highlights the fallacy of ‘good government’; and the fortitude necessary to battle with government and the public administrative system to secure constitutional rights, protect constitutional provisions and obtain court awarded compensation.

In the democratic system of government that exists in the Eastern Caribbean, of which Grenada is a State, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. As the supreme law, the Constitution always prevails and any law or actions not in conformity is declared unconstitutional or null and void.

The principle of ‘good government’ is embedded within the Constitution, with the highest decision-making body, the Parliament, having constitutional authority to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the country (section 38 of the Grenada Constitution).

In public administration, ‘good government’ calls for the rule of law, transparent and accountable government processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public service, empowerment of the people, equity, and sustainability.

Institutions of government operating under a ‘good government’ agenda, will conduct their affairs and manage public resources in a constitutional manner, free of abuse, corruption, and with due regard for the rule of law. The essential attributes of such a government would be transparency, responsibility, accountability, participation, and responsiveness to the needs of the people.

The legal and administrative struggles of the former Secretary to Cabinet and the non-payment of compensatory damages years after having been awarded by the Court have led to the conclusion that ‘good government’ as enshrined in the Constitution is a fallacy. It is a dream.

The Government paid the court awarded vindicatory damages in April 2021. However, the compensatory damages which were approved by the High Court in October 2018 remain unpaid with no formal agreement for payment or a payment plan. In compliance with the ruling of the High Court in March 2021, the Certificate from the Registrar of the Supreme Court requesting payment of compensatory damages was served on the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance on 20th April 2021.

This was followed by two letters of reminder, dated 7th July and 6th September 2021 respectively to the Permanent Secretary. Contrary to what should be the procedure in the public service, the Permanent Secretary has not acknowledged receipt of either the Certificate from the Registrar or the two reminders.

We are about to enter a new year and there seems to be no alternative than for the former Secretary to Cabinet to return to the Court system to secure the payment of the constitutionally due and court awarded compensation. It would require continued fortitude as this has been on-going for almost a decade.

Also, it is more than four years since the OECS Court of Appeal ordered that compensation be paid to the former Secretary to Cabinet for her unconstitutional removal from the Public Service of Grenada. It is over three years since the High Court awarded the compensatory damages by means of a Consent Order.

This was followed by a letter from the Public Service Commission to the former Secretary to Cabinet indicating that, and I quote “Your entitlements in term of compensation, gratuity, pensions and other benefits will be, as agreed upon, in accordance with the terms of the Agreement duly executed between yourself and the Government of Grenada on the 9th day of October 2018, which has been sent to the Accountant General Department and other relevant departments for necessary actions”.

Prior to any agreement on the compensatory damages and a proper letter from the Public Service Commission, the former Secretary to Cabinet was removed from the payroll on August 1st, 2018, by the stroke of a pen or the click of a mouse. It is now over three (3) years since the former Secretary to Cabinet was removed from the government payroll without an alternative form of income.

This heartless action was taken against a woman who had served the country for thirty years as a public officer; and was a main contributor to the upkeep of her household. The action of the government significantly reduced the income of the household and made the senior public officer economically dependent.

The experience of Grenada’s former Secretary to Cabinet in a constitutional or democratic bureaucracy is a good case study instructive to governments, public officers, and all citizens. The approach by the Government to resolving a self-created constitutional dilemma exposed the fallacy of ‘good government’ as catered to in the Constitution. It also highlighted the need for strength, determination, and courage in the fight for constitutional rights and provisions.

The nine (9) years of administrative meanderings with eight (8) of these years in the judicial system have exposed serious breaches in the pillars of ‘good government’, and in this case, the actions of the new government administration of 2013.   Following a General Election, it is normal to have a smooth transition from one Government to another. A new administration will make changes to strategic personnel in the public service. It is the right of members of the Executive to decide to work closely with persons with whom they are comfortable.

Specifically, the Prime Minister has the right to decide on the appointment of a Secretary to Cabinet with whom he is comfortable. However, the treatment of the then Secretary to Cabinet whether by transfer, assignment or redeployment must be in keeping with the Constitution. The senior public officer must be treated with respect and dignity. Fundamentally, the actions of the Government must be consistent with the Constitution.

The Executive arm of government has access to its Legal Adviser, in the person of the Attorney General. The Governor-General and the Public Service Commission have that same access. As independent bodies, they may also have the privilege to obtain external legal advice. It is difficult to understand why the administrative system of government failed to bring about a resolution utilising all available options. The application of the Constitution and meaningful engagement with the former Secretary to Cabinet could have halted a long and costly legal process.

The failure of the administrative system and the infringement on a constitutional provision in relation to employment in the public service pushed the former Secretary to Cabinet to take legal action against the Government. It is eight [8] years since the commencement of the legal process, with the filing of the originating motion in 2014 to a decision on compensatory and vindicatory damages and now to the current efforts to get the Government to comply with the decision of the Court.

It would soon be a decade and the payment of the compensatory damages by the Government necessary to resolve the unconstitutional removal of the former Secretary to Cabinet remains outstanding.

The resolution of a simple employment issue by the relevant public service entities became a national legal issue. Public resources, which could have been utilised more efficiently, had to be diverted to court proceedings. Then came the rulings of the High Court and OECS Court of Appeal which placed additional financial burden on the population.

Constitutional breaches are costly and should always be avoided.

The principles of ‘good government’ will continue to be a critical feature of the constitutions of the islands of the Eastern Caribbean. A system of ‘good government’ is maintained when the Constitution is upheld; the decisions of the Judiciary are respected by the Executive; and there is a cadre of professional public officers operating within their constitutional remit.

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