Former Cabinet Secretary, Beryl Isaac could be a key witness in a case brought by senior civil servant Veronica Charles against the Grenada government over her removal from the post of Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Development, headed by St. Andrew North-west Member of Parliament, Delma Thomas.
Isaac is alleging that Charles was removed from the post for an action which amounted to a major embarrassment of Minister Thomas on budgetary allocations for her ministry.
However, PS Charles has indicated in court papers that no one had ever confronted her with allegations that she had acted improperly in the conduct of her duties within the ministry.
Charles is said to have told Isaac that she was being removed for uncovering corruption in the SEED programme run by the ministry.
Attorney-at-law for the PS, former Finance Minister, Nazim Burke has told THE NEW TODAY that his client had opposed giving approval to “ghost payments” to person who could not have been identified from a list to benefit from state funds.
Minister Thomas told a recent sitting of Parliament that these claims are nothing but “fake news” and that she had never engaged in any wrongdoing during her two terms in office.
Isaac who is now head of the Public Service commission (PSC) is expected to be put on the Witness Stand by Attorney Burke to question her on proof that PS Charles had engaged in behaviour which disqualified her from continuing to perform the functions of a Permanent Secretary.
As a public service, THE NEW TODAY produces an edited version of the affidavit of the former Cabinet Secretary in the Veronica Charles matter:
I, Beryl Isaac, of the Carenage in the town of St. George in the State of Grenada make Oath and say as follows:
I am a retired Public Officer. I was the Secretary to the Cabinet from August 2014 to 14th January 2020. Further, I am at present, the Chairperson of the Public Service Commission.
I am duly authorised by the Second Defendant to make this affidavit in opposition to the Originating Motion of the Claimant filed 13th July 2020 and her affidavit in support thereof filed on even date. Insofar as the contents of this Affidavit are within my personal knowledge it is true and insofar as it is not within my personal knowledge it is true to the best of my knowledge information and belief.
Where I rely on information not within my personal knowledge, the source of that information are the documents and or persons I refer to or both, all obtained during the course of Government business.
When I held the post of Secretary to the Cabinet, I provided administrative support to the Cabinet Ministers of the Government of Grenada. Those duties involved me from time to time dealing and assisting with administrative duties in relation to operations of various Ministries, Permanent Secretaries, staff and other matters and issues within the Public Service.
During my tenure, it was customary for me to invite officers to my office to hold discussions with them from time to time, on different matters based on the needs and demands of the Public Service. For example, when the post of Permanent Secretary (PS) in the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) became a truly vacate post, the Government was minded to recommend that the Claimant be appointed to act in the position of Permanent Secretary.
I invited the Claimant to my office and informed her that a decision had been taken to make recommendation for her acting appointment to the post of PS in MSD and, that the appropriate submission was being made to the Third Defendant (PSC).
I spoke with the Claimant about the job as PS and offered my support and help as she may need from time to time.
It was only after I had the above conversation with the Claimant, that correspondence was submitted to the Third Defendant triggering the formal process for the consideration, recommendation and appointment by the Third Defendant to be undertaken.
Notwithstanding, the Claimant commenced acting as PS prior to receipt of her official correspondence from the Third Defendant in good faith without complaint. At all times, it was within the discretion of the Third Defendant after considering the recommendation for the Claimant’s acting appointment, to decline to appoint the Claimant to act in the post of PS.
During my tenure as Secretary to the Cabinet, I met on more than one occasion with the Claimant in relation to the business of the Government on my invitation or at times, she initiated the request to meet. We had physical meetings and spoke via telephone. In fact, in June 2019, when the Claimant was on vacation leave, the Third Defendant appointed me to oversee the functioning of MSD in the Claimant’s absence.
During either the month of August or September 2019, the Claimant requested a meeting with me at which she indicated that she had discovered issues in relation to the Support for Education, Empowerment and Development Programme of the MSD (SEED Programme). I listened to the information that the Claimant provided and noted the same to raise with the principals of the Government. I also discussed in that meeting the Housing programme of the Government and sought clarification in relation to the application process, some applicants and other related matters.
A PS is the administrative head of the ministry of which he or she is assigned. The leadership role and duties performed by a PS are highly demanding and requires immense precision on all matters. There are procedures to follow and the Government’s business and policies to be implemented.
During the Claimant’s tenure as an acting PS, I received complaints in relation to the performance of her duties. I met with the Claimant and spoke with her in relation certain actions or omissions, particularly, in relation to the important matter of budget by reason of which she had put her Minister in an acutely embarrassing position and her insubordination.
Yearly, there is an Annual Budget Estimate and a Supplementary Budget Estimate prepared by various Ministries for approval by Parliament. A PS is responsible for preparation of the budget that is presented on behalf of his or her ministry for approval by the Houses of Parliament.
The respective Ministers are required to approve the budget for his or her ministry. A ministry’s pre-approved budget is then sent to the Ministry of Finance for approval. If changes are made by the Ministry of Finance that information is relayed to the relevant Ministry and that information will be relayed by the PS to the Minister for consideration of any changes made by the Ministry of Finance for approval by the Minister.
Once the Minister approves the updated budget, that budget is then resubmitted to the Ministry of Finance which Ministry submits the full budget and estimates for all ministries to Cabinet for onwards approval by the Houses of Parliament.
The Annual and Supplementary Budget Estimates set the financial framework for the work to be undertaken by a ministry in any year. Ministers have to defend the budget advanced for its ministry.
The Claimant submitted the budget for MSD to the Ministry of Finance without the Minister of MSD’s approval of its contents. That omission by the Claimant was egregious and crucial indication that she was not yet ready to continue on as a PS.
I did invite the Claimant to my then office in the latter part of October 2019. Contrary to the assertion of the Claimant (in) her Affidavit, I did not summons her to my then office to inform her that a decision was taken to terminate her appointment as PS.
To that I say as follows:
(a). I issued an invitation for the Claimant to attend my office as I had done when she was being appointed to act as PS and throughout her tenure as an acting PS to discuss various matters. I will not attempt to split hairs about the choice of language being attributed to me by the Claimant from the word “summoned”, but I find it disingenuous that the Claimant would attach special weight to any such language when she knew what was customary.
(b). My invitation for the Claimant to meet with me was to discuss her performance as acting PS and to advise her that a recommendation was going to be made for her not to continue on as an acting PS. I acknowledge that I said to the Claimant that her acting appointment as PS will be terminated but, the Claimant has interacted with me and was well aware that I was relaying to her that was the recommendation that would be made and not that I personally was terminating her acting appointment on behalf of the Government. The constitution clearly states how a PS may be appointed or terminated.
(c). The Claimant knows that as a former senior public servant, I have served at all times with best efforts to ensure that processes are done as properly as the expediency of the circumstances required. As such, I would not have presumed, intentionally or otherwise, to usurp the position of the Third Defendant and or Her Excellency, the Governor-General, from the position of Secretary to the Cabinet.
I certainly did not do that when I invited the Claimant to my office to advise her that she was going to be recommended to act as a PS and I did not do that, when I advised her that a recommendation was going to be made for her acting appointment as PS to be terminated notwithstanding the implied assertions of the Claimant in her Affidavit.
(d). I informed the Claimant that her omissions in relation to the preparation of the Supplementary Budget, in particular, that failing to secure her Minister’s approval was of major concern. The Claimant in essence indicated to me that though the budget was not given to her Minister for approval, the budget contained information that that Minister had already seen when the annual budget was prepared, so the information was not new. Those assertions trivialised the Claimant’s error in performing her salient duties – in paragraph 14 of her affidavit, she states “in any event, the information in the supplemental budget was not new to the Minister… ”
(e). At the meeting, the Claimant readily indicated to me that it was not unexpected that her acting appointment as PS would be terminated because of a prior conversation that I had with another PS in relation to the filing of the office of PS Ministry of Social Development.
The Claimant then proceeded to inform me of why she felt her acting appointment was being terminated which, she alleged was because she uncovered corruption in the Government’s housing programme. I did not respond to that assertion because I was not in a position to do the same.
Also, I was unaware of that being a matter at play in the decision for her acting appointment being ended. To the best of my knowledge, I do not know whether there was in fact any corruption in the Government’s housing programme at the material time and or otherwise.
(f). I did ask the Claimant to prepare a handover paper, as a brief to whomever would be appointed to the post of PS in MSD which request allows for a smooth transition between different office holders as is standard in any business.
I did not name a particular individual as being her successor in the post. I asked for that information specifically to be provided to me. The Claimant informed me that Mrs. Chrisse Worme-Charles was familiar with the current matters being attended to by her as PS, so that individual would be in a position to brief anyone who came in as PS.
(g). I also informed the Claimant that she was being reverted to her substantive position as Director of Social Development in MSD with a recommendation that she be transferred to the post of Institutional Strengthening Specialist, Ministry of Climate Resilience, the Environment, Forestry, Fisheries and Disaster Management.
I was not in a position to indicate when she would start as Institutional Strengthening Specialist, so I informed her that I would get back to her on the date.
(12). On 30th October 2019, the Claimant called me via telephone and told me that she had completed her handover brief. I asked her to deliver it to me personally which she did. She came to my office to hand it to me personally, and I then informed the Claimant that her physical office space as Institutional Strengthening Specialist was not yet ready so enquired whether she would be minded to go on leave for a bit – an additional week or so was needed for that physical space to be prepared.
The Claimant reasonably indicated that if she goes on leave it cannot be vacation leave and agreed to be placed on administrative leave. A recommendation was thereafter made to the Third Defendant (PSC) for the Claimant to go on Administrative Leave from 31st October until the 8th November 2019.
(13). Once the Claimant’s new physical office space was ready, I informed her that she should report for duties. On 11th November 2019, the Claimant assumed her duties as Institutional Strengthening Specialist in good faith as she did when she was appointed to act as a PS prior to receipt of official correspondence from the Third Defendant.
(14). The post of Institutional Strengthening Specialist was created in or about early October 2019. The Department of Public Administration, which is responsible for determining the Human Resource needs within the Government, gave approval for the position of Institutional Strengthening Specialist to be filled by a Public Service Commission public officer.
Further, based on when the Budget Estimates for 2020 was finalised, the post of Institutional Strengthening Specialist was not included in the 2020 Budget Estimate. It should have entered the Budget Estimates in the Supplementary Budget and should be in the 2021 budget.
The Claimant as a former acting Permanent Secretary should be aware of the same and it is therefore, disingenuous for the Claimant (in) her Affidavit to conveniently disregard her institutional knowledge as to why her post was not reflected in the Budget Estimates for 2020, to adopt the interpretation of her Legal Counsel.
(15). By a Submission dated 4th November 2019, I made a general submission to the Public Service Commission in relation to several changes relating to Permanent Secretaries, vacation leave for Permanent Secretaries and matters related thereto.
It included the recommendations relating to the Claimant being reverted to her substantive position and that she fills the position of Institutional Strengthening Specialist.
In that submission, I indicated to the Third Defendant that the Claimant acting as Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Social Development was inefficacious.
(16). I received a memorandum dated 4th November 2019 from the Claimant requesting that I reduce to writing instructions that she hand over to Mrs. Chrisse Worme-Charles and that she proceeds on administrative leave with immediate effect.
As Secretary to the Cabinet, I could not give such written instructions to the Claimant as it would have circumvented the role of the Third Defendant and the Governor General. It was a request for me to act unconstitutionally. On 22nd November 2019, I responded to the Claimant and advised her that the matter was submitted to the Public Service Commission and that written communication will be sent to her in due course.
Again, I mention that it is not unusual in the service that one receives official written correspondence after his or her post has been changed or he or she has gone on leave all done in good faith. Especially leave, since the systems are just not that efficient for same day approvals to be given and, official correspondence may follow sometime after for an individuals’ records or a decision may be taken to decline the recommendations.
(17).1 resigned from the Public Service with effect from 14th January 2020.
(18). In my capacity as Chairperson of the Third Defendant, I am privy to the minutes of the Third Defendant dated 18th November 2019, wherein the Public Service Commission took the decision to accept the recommendations in relation to the Claimant to advise the Governor General.
(19). In the circumstances, I humbly ask that Claimant’s claim be dismissed, with costs to the Second Defendant.