High Court allows $12.1m claim against ODPM to continue

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Frank Seepersad –

A La Romaine auto dealership will be allowed to pursue its claim for $12.1 million for services provided to the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management (ODPM).

On May 13, Justice Frank Seepersad ruled that the majority of Achievor Enterprises Ltd’s claim should be evaluated at trial. In his ruling, which the State sought to strike out on the basis it was statute-barred, the judge ruled that only the claim on two invoices, totalling $21,668.48 was statute-barred.

A trial date has not yet been set since the State is expected to appeal the judge’s decision.

Senior Counsel Terrence Bharath, who leads a team for the Attorney General, said the State may want to test the decision on appeal to determine if it was correct or not.

“I do respectfully bow to the decision but I do think it is a substantially important decision where, if the claims ought to be removed, it should be removed now and not at trial.”

The State has seven days in which to file an appeal. It is for this reason, the judge held his hands on giving directions but adjourned the matter to June 10 for a status on the appeal.

In its lawsuit, Achievor Enterprises Ltd is contending that it is owed the money for services it provided to the ODPM between 2011 and 2021. The services included the rental of forklifts, trucks and amphibious utility vehicles and warehouse management.

The company claimed that it entered into discussions with senior officials from the ODPM and the ministry over payment of the fees and received approximately $500,000 towards the same.

In January 2022, the ministry terminated the warehouse-attendant services with the company.

In its lawsuit, the company claimed $12,161,162.72, which it contended it was owed, plus interest.

It has also asked for a declaration that the ODPM has been unjustly enriched by benefiting from the services it did not pay for.

Seepersad said if the issue of the requisite authority was established at trial, it could amount to an acknowledgement of a debt which covered several of the other invoices.

“Limitation periods may be viewed as oppressive and unfair but Parliament has provided by the enactment of the Limitation of Certain Actions Act that in the interest of justice, a defendant should not be called upon to meet a stale claim.”

The judge also expressed the view that the Procurement Act could serve to mitigate the concerns of contractors and business people who provide services to the State, as, he said, they “may often hesitate to initiate litigation each time a government agency does not honour its commitment” since they depend on further contracts with these agencies.

“Where services have been provided to the State, it may be prudent for the relevant agencies to be reminded that the business community plays a critical role in the republic’s economic framework as their continued investment and support catalyses economic growth.”

Seepersad said state agencies “should always endeavour to honour all legitimate obligations and not hide behind technical defences.

“The State must strive to lead by example, and doing that which is just, fair and right, sets the right tone.

“Every citizen, whether private or corporate, should be able to operate in a climate where there should be no uncertainty with respect to payments for services which are rendered and the State or its functionaries/ agencies should never be seen to be employing, ‘smart man tactics’, to delay or ultimately avoid the payments of its just debts.

“Any such behaviour is intolerable and has no place in a developing democracy.”

Achievor Enterprises Ltd was represented by Kelvin Ramkissoon, Akshay Boodram and Rajiv Sumair while Jinai Chong Sing, Raquel Le Blanc, Laura Persad, and Murvani Ojah-Maharaj also appeared for the Attorney General.