Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Faris Al-Rawi has turned to the High Court for an interpretation of the Tobago House of Assembly Act and, specifically, a determination as to whether Watson Duke can legally continue in his dual role of THA deputy chief secretary and Public Service Association (PSA) president.
THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine said last week that he had given Duke three months to ‘sever ties’ with PSA while, on Monday, Duke submitted an ‘offer of resignation’ to his union comrades.
And, in a post-THA Council meeting yesterday, Augustine scoffed at two letters sent the THA Assembly by Al-Rawi on the matter.
“On the issue of whether I will respond or not—the truth is the Tobago House of Assembly does not answer to the Attorney General,” said Augustine. “The Tobago House of Assembly is a semi-autonomous body and we definitely do not answer to the Attorney General.
“I will add that perhaps the Attorney General is not the best person to give advice on conflicts of interest, giving that he is part of a government that is paying his family handsomely multiple millions in rental.”
Augustine further assured the public that Duke ‘has already indicated by way of a resignation letter to the PSA (Public Service Association) that, effective at the end of this calendar year, he will no longer be with the PSA’.
Still, Duke continues to hold both portfolios while a section on the PSA website entitled ‘The PSA and The PDP’ suggested that his dual role as politician and union leader is by design.
‘Through his inspirational leadership, the PDP is now the third strongest political party in the country,’ stated the PSA website. ‘[…] With Mr Watson Solomon Duke at the helm of both organisations, the PDP and the PSA are inextricably linked in the fabric of the politics of Trinidad and Tobago affording workers a seat in the nation’s highest boardroom, the Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.’
The Attorney General, whose indicated deadline to Farley of Wednesday evening was loudly snubbed, hopes to have the court now weigh in on such an alliance between labour and political office. The legal team for the Office of the Attorney General on this matter is led by Fyard Hosein SC.
“This application does not seek to unseat the election of any person to the Assembly or to the executive council of the THA,” stated the legal application. “It merely seeks to clarify the law in the THA Act, as well as the Integrity in Public Life Act, Chapter 22:01, regarding the prohibition against a secretary of the THA and a person in public life, engaging in activities which would be in conflict with his duties as a secretary.
“The approach of requesting the court’s clarification of the law will redound to the benefit and best interest of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.
“The court’s ultimate ruling will certainly assist in the maintenance of confidence in the THA and will avoid unwanted challenges that may be taken against any and/or all actions and/or decisions taken and/or made by the Executive Council thereby ensuring transparency and protecting against challenges of unlawfulness.”
Al-Rawi noted that Duke is a member of the THA executive council as well as deputy chief secretary, member of the Recognition Board and Progressive Democratic Patriots (PDP) political leader—Augustine is PDP deputy political leader.
The chief administrator of the Assembly, Al-Rawi noted, exercises ‘extensive delegated powers of the Public Service Commission relating to employment in the public service’.
The Recognition Body was described as ‘a quasi-judicial body which makes binding determinations in respect of the entitlement of workers to access the Industrial Court as well as to determine the bargaining units of trade unions nationally’.
As such, Al-Rawi questioned whether Duke could hold both positions without conflicts of interest arising—whether or not he was unpaid as PSA president.
And he is asking the High Court to determine if Duke:
a.would be acting contrary to his obligations as a member of the Executive Council of the Assembly;
b. would be breaching the terms of the THA Act;
c. would inevitably be involved in a conflict of interest positions between his private interests and public offices;
d. would be impaired in the manner in which he performs his functions;
e. would be seen to be affording or give the appearance of affording preferential treatment to particular groups whom he represents;
f. would be utilising his position or will be giving the appearance of so doing, to influence his private interests, including in breach of the Integrity in Public Life Act;
g. would be privy to confidential information which ought not to be disclosed to or utilised (including by the PSA) but which he might be (and as president of the PSA he will be) under a duty so to disclose and/or use;
h. would be failing in his obligation to arrange his private interests in such a manner as to maintain public confidence and trust in his integrity;
i. would be creating inequalities or perceived inequalities of treatment in the administration of the Assembly with respect to other bodies (including other trade unions);
j. would be breaching his obligations of impartiality and equality of treatment imposed under sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution and as contained in the oath of office which he took as an Assemblyman of the Assembly;
k. would be breaching his obligations as a member of the Recognition Board and acting contrary to the terms of the Industrial Relations Act; and
l. would be compromising the integrity of determinations of the Recognition Board which will have widespread third party impact and will breach the rights of all parties with matters before that Board.
The Attorney General seeks the following relief:
1.The determination and interpretation of the Supreme Court, by way of Declaration or otherwise, of the following matters: a. whether, on a proper construction of the Tobago House of Assembly Act Chap 25:03, a secretary is entitled to concurrently engage in the activity of being either: i. the president of the Public Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago; and/or ii. a member of the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board
b. Whether, on a proper construction of the Integrity in Public Life Act Chapter 22:01, a secretary is entitled to concurrently engage in the activity of being either: i. the president of the Public Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago; and/or ii. a member of the Registration, Recognition and Certification Board.
2. A declaration as to the proper construction of sub-section 16 (8) of the Tobago House of Assembly Act and in particular a determination as to whether: a. the expression ‘for profit or remuneration’ i. is limited only to payment of benefits or remuneration or whether it includes other benefits which may accrue from engaging in an activity; ii. qualifies only the noun ‘undertaking’ or qualifies also other nouns in subsection 16 (8);
b. the prohibition on engaging in activities in that sub-section is avoided where a member of the executive council continues to act in a position which carries an entitlement to profit or remuneration but merely foregoes receipt of such profit or remuneration.
3. Such further and/or other relief and/or direction and/or guidance as this honourable court may deem just to resolve the issues raised by the appointment of Mr Duke as the deputy general secretary of the THA while he continues to act as the president of the PSA.
4. That there be no order as to the costs of these proceedings which are brought in the public interest and on a matter of urgent public importance.
These are issues as a society we will continue to grapple with once the electorate continues to vote into the highest offices of the land (I’ll be charitable here) less than honourable men and women.
This cuts across the entire political divide, giving rise to the notion that others are getting away so why can’t we.