Chauffeur loses lawsuit against Central Bank over UNC local government candidacy

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The Central Bank, Port of Spain. – File photo by Jeff K Mayers

A former United National Congress (UNC) local government election candidate has failed in his lawsuit against the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (CBTT), after he faced dismissal as a chauffeur if he did not withdraw his candidacy for the Malabar North constituency in the 2023 polls.

In a written ruling on June 5, Justice Frank Seepersad dismissed Lyndon de Gannes’ claim against the bank, in which he sought a declaration that the CBTT’s directive to withdraw his candidacy for the local government elections in August 2023 breached his constitutional rights.

The judge’s ruling clears the way for the bank to take disciplinary action against de Gannes unless he successfully appeals the decision or obtains a temporary injunction.

De Gannes worked at the bank for 28 years. He was screened by the UNC in June 2023, was chosen and filed his nomination to contest the elections.

The bank sent him a letter reminding him of its code of conduct, in particular code 06.03.04. Political Activity and Participation, which prohibits employees from running for political office.

De Gannes asked for time to respond and get legal advice, but the bank said he was expected to confirm his withdrawal as a candidate for the election or resign.

On June 30, de Gannes received an injunction blocking the CBTT from firing him.

In his lawsuit, he contended the bank’s regulation did not ban workers from political activities, as many openly campaigned for their parties at rallies.

His constitutional motion argued the prohibition against running for political office was unfair and irrational.

He also said he was a low-level employee who was not involved in policymaking or the management of the bank.

But in his ruling, Seepersad said de Gannes voluntarily subjected himself to the bank’s regulatory process and agreed to be bound by the limitations and discipline.

“It must be understood that the rights guaranteed under the Constitution are not absolute and they can be abridged by duly enacted provisions which are deemed…reasonably justifiable in a democratic society which respects the rights of individuals and the rule of law.”

He said employees must, at times, adhere to limitations imposed by employers once fair, measured, pellucid, reasonable and proportionate.

At the bank, Seepersad said, the code applied to every CBTT employee, regardless of rank or status, and had been applied neutrally and consistently.

The judge also determined the CBTT’s code was legitimate and justifiable.

“The substantive functions of the CBTT must be insulated from political interference and the independence of the CBTT as it is with all independent and constitutionally insulated institutions, must be jealously guarded and fiercely defended.”

He said the code aimed to ensure the bank operated objectively and impartially by insulating employees from elected officials.

But employees were not banned from “political activities, attending political meetings, participating in political discussions/ debates or from openly displaying their support for their party’s candidate of choice.

However, he said, a political candidate “can possibly formulate or execute policy or…have a direct link to those who do discharge such functions.

“It is for this reason that the need for insulation arises.”

Supporting a party was one thing, but “a different dynamic arises” if an employee takes on a position which could entail formulating or implementing politically driven policy or determining the allocation of services or recourses.

“Independent institutions must always be vigilant and they must proactively guard against political overreach.”

He said even if de Gannes, as a chauffeur, played no active part in the bank’s functions, he would inevitably come into contact with someone who did, compromising public perception of the CBTT’s impartiality.

“In many areas of employment, choices have to be made as not every constitutionally guaranteed right can be exercised.”

If employees were unwilling to compromise certain rights, “They are free to pursue other career options which may not curtail those rights.”

He said even judges were not spared, and that was “the price which must be paid to preserve and protect the integrity and impartiality which is required to ensure…public trust and confidence in the administration of justice.”

De Gannes was represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Natasha Bisram, Kent Samlal, Ganesh Saroop, Jayanti Lutchmedial-Ramdial and Vishal Siewsaran. The CBTT was represented by Kerwyn Garcia, SC, and Vishma Jaisingh.