Ombudsman gets justice for women 94, 96

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Ombudsman Rajmanlal Joseph. –

A 94-year-old woman had to struggle for 12 years but eventually won compensation for her catering business with the help of Ombudsman retired justice Rajmanlal Joseph.

A 96-year-old woman waited 16 years but finally got justice with the ombudsman’s intervention in her claim for her deceased daughter’s terminal benefits as a Tobago teacher.

These were two incidents taken from the casebook in the 45th Report of the Ombudsman (2022) recently laid in the House of Representatives.

The first case, where Ms E’s catering equipment went missing during renovations at the Police Training Academy, St James, was first highlighted in the Ombudsman’s 41st Report (2018). As a caterer, she had been contracted by the police service to provide meals for recruits at the academy, in 1981.

In 2004, the academy was closed for repairs and Ms E left her kitchen equipment there, in the expectation of resuming her work after the repairs were finished.

(Newsday calculates she had given about 23 years of service there.)

The 2022 Ombudsman report said, “Upon her return, however, she discovered that all of her kitchen equipment went missing.

“Subsequently, in July 2007, her contract with the police service was terminated.”

In 2011, after several failed efforts to find the equipment, she filed a claim for compensation to the then Police Commissioner for her items valued at $75,000.

“Ms E, who was 81 years old at the time, was unsuccessful in her pursuit to have her matter resolved.” She approached the Ombudsman March 2012.

He, in turn, contacted the police commissioner and Ministry of National Security.

In 2014, the commissioner notified the ombudsman that a recommendation to compensate Ms E had been sent to the solicitor general.

“Numerous attempts were made by the Office of Ombudsman to obtain a response from the Solicitor General’s Office, but to no avail.”

After multiple exchanges between the ombudsman and the relevant authorities without the case being resolved, the ombudsman issued a summons to the police commissioner in February 2022, the report said.

“In March 2022, the ombudsman was told by the police service legal unit that the commissioner had agreed to fully compensate her.” A cheque was prepared for her.

“Ms E was extremely grateful for the successful settlement of the claim which she filed 12 years ago.

“Ms E was 94 when her matter was finally resolved.”

The second case involved Ms C, a school teacher employed by the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and died in June 2007 at age 55.

Her mother was granted letters of administration in 2014.

“On November 29, 2016, two years after several unsuccessful attempts to obtain terminal benefits from the Division of Education, Research and Technology, Ms C’s mother – who was 86 years old – assigned power of attorney to her son, Ms C’s brother, to pursue terminal benefits owed to her daughter’s estate by the division.”

The son approached the ombudsman for help to get the benefits from the THA division.

“His mother was then 92 and concerned that she would pass away without receiving the terminal benefits duly owed to her daughter’s estate.”

The ombudsman wrote a letter to the division but got no reply, so then issued a summons to appear on November 30, 2022.

“On November 18, 2022, eleven days prior to the scheduled date of the hearing and 15 years after Ms C’s passing, the division prepared the requisite pension and leave records to facilitate the processing of the terminal benefits.”

On February 2, 2023, the records were sent for audit at the THA, three months after being prepared.

On February 2, 2023 the audited records were sent to the THA chief administrator for onward transmission to the THA’s Comptroller of Accounts which received the documents on May 12, 2023.

The ombudsman report said, “Based on the foregoing facts, it is apparent that the pension and leave records were never prepared until the division was served with a summons from the Office of the Ombudsman.

“The division took 16 years to prepare the relevant documents to facilitate the processing of terminal benefits owed to the complainant’s mother, who was then 96 years old at the time of resolution of the matter.”

The report said such cases of administrative injustice were far too commonplace.

“Such practices by any division of the THA or any other government institution should be frowned on.

“Moreover, meaningful steps should be taken by public sector institutions to ensure that such situations are mitigated.”

The Ombudsman’s Casebook mentioned two other cases. One involved a 59-year-old, dual-nationality female clerk at the TT Embassy in Washington DC whose job the ombudsman worked hard to have recognised as insurable under TT’s National Insurance Scheme (NIS), the case taking five years.

The other case, titled A 12 year cry for help, involved the ombudsman helping to get repairs to a woman’s house and surroundings after damage caused by improper drainage construction by San Fernando City Corporation. This had involved the ombudsman attesting to the woman’s “agony” at her plight and having to issue the corporation a summons.