Chief Secretary accused of ‘covering up’ THA appointments

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday


Chief Secretary Farley Augustine. – THA

CHIEF Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Farley Augustine has accused of misleading the court in relation to the status of deputy chief secretary Watson Duke and two others and covering up the appointments.

In a letter to attorney Kiel Taklalsingh, the legal director for the Attorney General’s secretariat, Tenille Ramkissoon, said there were conflicts relating to Duke’s appointment with the Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) given the date of his appointment as deputy chief secretary after the December 6 THA elections and the appointment of two assistant secretaries of the assembly’s executive council.

They were identified as Joel Sampson and Nigel Taitt. Ramkissoon said checks have revealed that they are still employed with WASA and the Port Authority, respectively.

“We expected your client, Mr Farley Augustine to act with similar candour and transparency consistent with his oath of office as well as his obligations as Chief Secretary. This office is created by the Constitution and carries a devolved responsibility in several areas relating to the good governance of

Tobago.

We also expect that you would have advised your client of the obligations reposed in his office,” Ramkisson told Taklalsingh on Friday.

She said both Taitt and Sampson, who was appointed deputy presiding officer of the assembly, were still engaged in an occupation for remuneration.

Ramkissoon also said Augustine has refused to respond to AG Faris Al-Rawi’s letters of December 9 and 13 in which he offered his advice “ so that the newly appointed administration would not fall into error.”

On December 16, Al-Rawi filed an interpretation summons asking the court to pronounce on several pieces of legislation as it related to Duke’s appointment and his holding of positions with the Public Service Association (PSA) and the Registration, Recognition Certification Board (RRCB).

Duke has since resigned these positions. Last week, the THA, Augustine and Duke have filed applications to have the legal proceedings against them struck out on the basis it was an abuse of the court’s process since the issue relating to Duke no longer existed.

Ramkissoon said not only did Augustine appoint the three to positions in the executive council, he also complained about the AG’s claim but failed to tell the court the men might still be in breach of section 16(8) of the THA Act.

She further questioned Duke’s resignation from WASA and said his demitting office from the PSA and the RRCB only took place after he was advised about it by Al-Rawi.

“Accordingly, we will ask the court to make a finding relating to the conduct of Mr. Duke and what is clearly a backdating of correspondence concerning his resignation.”

Duke’s resignation from the PSA was effective December 31, while his resignation from WASA was effective January 3.

“It is now clear that your client has been remiss in his responsibilities in doing background checks on Mr Duke as well as on Mr Taitt and Mr Sampson.

“These background checks are based on a cornerstone principle of qualification and conflict of interest, which informs an appointment to public

Office,” Ramkissoon said to Taklalsingh.

She said even when Al-Rawi advised of these conflicts, the chief secretary still went ahead and made the appointments, defended them and “even went to the extent of covering up the fact that up to now these persons are in breach of section 16(8).”

She said when the AG filed the action in the court, he did so in the interest of “transparency to clarify the law on the issue” and for the court to provide guidance not only for the current THA administration but future administrations.

“The Attorney General acted in a manner which was bona fide and transparent and in accordance with his role as the guardian of the public interest.”

She also accused Augustine of attempting to “sidestep the issue” with his strike-out application, adding “it is intended to avoid judicial scrutiny and to delay the determination of this matter.”

This, she said, will also be brought to the court’s attention.