State appeals ex CBTT governor’s wrongful dismissal ruling

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Jwala Rambarran –

THREE Appeal Court judges have reserved their decision on the State’s appeal of the ruling of the High Court in favour of former Central Bank governor Jwala Rambarran for wrongful dismissal from the position in December 2015.

On Wednesday, Justices of Appeal Nolan Bereaux, Mark Mohammed and Peter Rajkumar heard submissions from Russell Martineau, SC, who leads the State’s legal team, and Rambarran’s attorney, Anand Ramlogan, SC.

It was Martineau’s contention that Justice Devindra Rampersad got it wrong when he ruled in the former governor’s favour.

In his ruling in June 2022, Rampersad held Rambarran’s dismissal was illegal. He also ruled the termination was in breach of the Constitution.

He contended that the Government unlawfully revoked his appointment in breach of his constitutional right to due process and fairness.

Rampersad also ruled that if there were concerns that Rambarran’s alleged conduct was in breach of aspects of the Central Bank Act and Financial Institutions Act, both had provisions for criminal charges to be laid which Rambarran would have had to defend before a magistrate.

“Parliament intended that if there was a breach of either of the acts, that there was a remedy to deal with that breach,” he said, as he noted that Imbert did not reveal the full reasons for his recommendation.

Rambarran was fired as Central Bank governor on December 23, 2015, after acting president Christine Kangaloo revoked his appointment on the advice of the Cabinet. He had been appointed on July 17, 2012.

At the time, it was said he was removed for being “discourteous” to the Government by making public details of foreign exchange, announcing on December 4 that year that TT was officially in a recession, and disclosing the names of the companies that were the biggest foreign-exchange buyers.

On December 22, 2015, Rambarran was summoned to a meeting with Finance Minister Colm Imbert and was presented with a press release from the bank, dated December 8, 2015, which noted the sentiments expressed by the private and financial sectors after Rambarran’s statements.

Two days after that meeting, Rambarran was served with the instrument of revocation of his appointment, which gave no reasons or grounds for his dismissal.

Martineau argued a magistrate did not have to determine misconduct, that was for the Cabinet.

“I find this very troubling,” he said of the court’s ruling.

He also said when Rambarran was called into the meeting with the minister and shown the release on the confidentiality issue, he would have known what was alleged against him.

“What do you expect the minister to be talking about? It could not be a discussion about anything other than a breach of confidentiality.”

Martineau said the trial judge went “awry” in his findings. He called on the Appeal Court to look at the case again since, according to him, context was important.

“He would have known why he was dismissed. It must have been obvious to him that his job was on the line.”

He also contended that even if the court found there was a breach of Rambarran’s rights, he was not entitled to vindicatory damages.

“This is not a case that calls for vindicatory damages.” He said all the former governor would be entitled to would be the salary owed to him.

In a subsequent ruling, Rampersad ordered Rambarran to be paid his salary from the date of his dismissal to July 16, 2017, when his tenure would have come to an end if he had not been fired. The judge also ordered vindicatory damages in the sum of $175,000. He assessed damages at $7,545,217.57.

However, $1,931,162.29 represented tax deductions, leaving a total of $5,470,055.28 for Rambarran.

Martineau also dismissed the judge’s comment as it related to Rambarran’s claim that Imbert sabotaged his appointment as a senior adviser with the US G-24 Secretariat because of a political and personal vendetta.

Rampersad had said the court has no doubt that the minister’s e-mail to the director of the G-24 “is not only unfair but it was also misleading.”

Martineau said the G-24 issue happened long after December 2015.

He said it was impossibly logical for the judge to say the minister was the cause of the former governor not getting the job.

In response, Ramlogan argued it would be “terribly prejudicial” to his client for the appeal court to adjudicate on the alleged misconduct. He maintained Rambarran was not given the opportunity to respond to the allegations in keeping with the rules of natural justice.

“There was a lot that could be said to rebut those allegations.”

He maintained the former governor’s statements on the highest foreign exchange earners came at a time when the Central Bank was under tremendous pressure on the issue.

“Why is it in TT no one must know who are the largest users of foreign exchange?

“..He was under the microscope, the spotlight to account for the country’s foreign exchange.”

Ramlogan maintained the substance of the allegation could not be sustained. He also contended it was not a simple case of a breach of natural justice but involved a high public and independent office.

According to Ramlogan, the dismissal of a governor of the bank was governed by statute.

He said while termination could result from a finding of guilt, in Rambarran’s case “who found him guilty?

“…Nobody has yet prosecuted him, charged him… Even the low-level public servant gets notice.”

Ramlogan said the minister was not the decision-maker.

“It is the President on the advice of Cabinet…You cannot equate Mr Imbert to the Cabinet. No one but the decision-maker could give you an opportunity to be heard.

“The decision-maker must give the person adversely affected an opportunity to respond to any allegation.”

He also said his client was yet to get the “actual reasons” from the Cabinet.

Ramlogan said the trial judge “got it right” in his ruling as the former governor “did establish a breach of his rights.”

The former governor has filed a cross-appeal of some aspects of the judge’s ruling.

Also representing him are Kent Samlal, Natasha Bisram, and Vishaal Siewsarran. Appearing with Martineau are Jason Mootoo, SC, and Romney Thomas.