AG not backing down: Lawsuit against Duke continues

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. FILE PHOTO –

LEGAL action taken by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi over Watson Duke’s appointment as Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Deputy Chief Secretary while still the Public Services Association (PSA) president, will not be discontinued.

This was indicated in a signed letter dated January 4 from legal director at the Office of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs (AGLA) Tenille Ramkissoon to attorney Kiel Taklalsingh, who is representing Duke and THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine.

Last December, Al-Rawi filed a construction summons in the High Court to interpret a section of the THA Act as it relates to Duke’s appointment as deputy chief secretary while also serving as PSA president and a member of the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board (RRCB).

The claim says Duke receives remuneration from the PSA and the RRCB. The latter falls under the Labour Ministry and deals with the recognition of trade unions by employers and related matters.

Duke was appointed deputy chief secretary after the PDP, which he leads, won the December 6, 2021 THA elections 14-one.

Augustine gave Duke a three-month ultimatum to put his house in order, but Al-Rawi insisted the PSA president had to step down immediately.

Duke resigned from the PSA, effective December 31.

Augustine subsequently said any conflict of interest involving Duke had been resolved and the THA did not answer to the AG.

In the letter, Ramkissoon said the AG disagreed with Taklalsingh’s comment in a January 3 letter that the matter was academic because Duke hd ad resigned from the PSA.

“We continue to maintain that there is a live issue with respect to the interpretation of section 16 (8) of the THA Act. This issue is evidenced by the appointment of Mr Duke as Deputy Chief Secretary of the THA, notwithstanding the fact that at the time of his appointment he was both a member of the RRCB and had offered his resignation to the PSA which had not yet been accepted.”

She said Duke’s “subsequent alleged resignation” showed either Taklalsingh’s client had “had a change of heart and now accepted that the position he originally took, that there was no infraction of section 16 (8) was wrong, or alternatively, that the issue was always (and still is) in doubt.”

The AGLA, Ramkissoon continued, has received preliminary instructions that two assistant secretaries in the THA’s Executive Council work with two state entities.

Ramkissoon hoped Taklalsingh would provide clarification on that issue, in the spirit of reciprocity and transparency.

She said Duke provided no information on his employment at the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA).

“You would appreciate that his status at WASA has implications for whether there has been (and still is) a breach of section 16 (8) of the THA Act.”

Ramkissoon also observed that Duke and Augustine were given a deadline of filing affidavits by January 5. She said this suggested the issues raised in Taklalsingh’s letter constituted an attempt to derail the strict time frames imposed by the court for the determination of the matter.

For these and other reasons in the AG’s letter to Taklalsingh, Ramkissoon said, “We must respectfully disagree with your assertion that the issue before the court is academic and we must now encourage you to comply with the court’s directions within the time frames which were ordered by the court, with your input, and against which directions and time frames you have not appealed.”