In a $10 million sequel to one of the more shocking episodes of the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration, taxpayers are once again being called upon to underwrite the cost of prime ministerial irresponsibility.
In delivering its judgment on Wednesday, the Industrial Court condemned as “oppressive, harsh and egregious” the dismissal of 20 employees of the Security Intelligence Agency (SIA) within six months of Persad-Bissessar leading the People’s Partnership into government in 2010.
This SIA case stands out as an example of the political witch-hunting that have been known to occur when new governments purge state offices and agencies of suspected enemies and replace them with loyalists at taxpayers’ expense.
In the case of the SIA, 20 employees were fired on the basis on a speculative report from the then second in command at Special Branch, Senior Supt of Police Surajdeen Persad, to then PM Kamla Persad-Bissessar. How Snr Supt Persad came to prepare the report is not clear but it was persuasive enough to make the PM act on the hypothetical scenario that “If sensitive information from that unit is (sic) allowed to be clandestinely sent to leading members of the PNM, it would undermine the legitimate constituted Government of T&T and ultimately lead to its downfall.”
The series of events following the decision to dismiss the SIA employees was the first major scandal to rock the PP government when the Express broke the story that a technical operator, Reshmi Ramnarine, had been appointed Acting Director of the SIA. In the face of overwhelming public condemnation Ramnarine resigned and disappeared.
As confirmed by the court’s ruling, the dismissals represented a rush to judgment by the political directorate without respect for due process. It was not the first nor has it been the only case of taxpayers paying for the errors of politicians. In the Rowley administration, for example, it was taxpayers who paid when the Sports Ministry settled with employee Carrie-Ann Moreau following a sexual harassment allegation against then Minister Darryl Smith.
The court’s displeasure with the Ministry of National Security’s failure to file evidence and arguments in the matter highlights the damaging disconnect between administrations which often leave the state defenceless and vulnerable when matters are challenged in court.
Changing this requires an independent, courageous and professional Public Service protected by effective Whistleblower legislation and willing to stand up to politicians and defy instructions that break the rules or compromise the process For this, the national interest, including taxpayer interest, will require a re-balancing of power between the Public Service and the executive.