Judge knocks delay in ex-soldier’s resettlement petition

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Justice Frank Seepersad. –

THE Defence Council has come in for strong criticism from a High Court judge for its delay in deciding on the resettlement entitlement of a retired soldier.

“It is pellucid that the Defence Council, as it is currently comprised, has not discharged its obligations effectively and efficiently,” Justice Frank Seepersad said in a ruling on July 2.

He ordered the council to decide on Christopher Alibocas’s petition for another opportunity for resettlement in 35 days. The judge also ruled the council’s delay was unreasonable and in breach of its statutory duty.

The council is a statutory body chaired by the National Security Minister and responsible for the command, administration and discipline of all other matters relating to the TT Defence Force, Alibocas retired from the regiment in December 2023. He enlisted in September 2003.

His lawsuit argued that he was entitled to benefit from the TTDF’s resettlement training policy, which prepares military officers for transition into the civilian working world by providing them with a marketable skill. Initially, he took part in a training programme at the Licensing Authority’s Transport Division, but was removed because of alleged absenteeism, which he denied.

In its defence, it was argued that the council was inundated with a volume of matters, contributing to a failure to decide on Alibocas’s petition.

The judge said by its admission, the council met seven times in the past two years, dealing with 11 matters over that period, but did not meet between February 2011 and May 2016.

A strategy was developed to treat the backlog of cases, but the judge said it was evident this plan “was ineffective.”

“The defendant also referenced the heavy schedule of council members – the minister, two Cabinet ministers appointed by the prime minister, the Chief of Defence Staff and the ministry’s permanent secretary responsible for the TTDF – and challenges on the convening of meetings as well as the unavailability of witnesses…

“The defendant’s mandate is important and statutory obligations must be addressed with alacrity.

“It is difficult to fathom how the Defence Council was non-functional between February 2011 and May 2016. The failure to have a functional Defence Council during this period is scandalous and suggests that the then minister(s) of National Security dropped the ball.

“Regrettably the dysfunctional mode of operation appears to have continued after 2016 and it is pellucid that the strategy outlined in April 2021 has failed to effectively address the backlog of petitions.”

He also said the current minister had a responsibility to practise proactive and decisive leadership by ensuring the council discharges its mandate. If not, he said the council’s composition should be reviewed and re-evaluated.

Seepersad added that the council’s inability to deal with Alibocas’s petition was “shocking and indicative of dysfunction.

“The constraints and confines of military life are significant and resettlement training is of vital importance as it serves to prepare officers for their re-assimilation into civilian life.

“As a result, the claimant retired without having the benefit of the determination of his petition and as a result, the possibility of resettlement training was never an option.

“Citizens who serve in the public sector should not be treated poorly and they should not be allowed to retire without having received all the benefits which are legitimately owed to them.”

Alibocas was represented by Arden Williams, Mariah Ramrattan and Antoinette Lucas-Andrews.

The Defence Council was represented by attorneys Jayanti Teeluckdharry and Che Richards.