THE DARK SIDE OF IMMIGRATION ACTIVITIES

74

By FRED LIVERMORE

One aspect and character­istic of the Public Service is that facts and speculat­ing rumours travel at an alarm­ing and amazing speed within the public and private sectors, given the advanced technologies and communications which we now enjoy.

An area that has recently aroused public interest and confidence and making the rounds, if it is true, is the alleged recent and secret appoint­ment of the position of Chief Immi­gration Officer, without any internal or external advertisements. It is be­ing alleged in broader circles that this appointment may have been politically fueled, and coincides with the registration program for Venezuelan nationals. At the same time, the excellent work done by former Prime Minister Basdeo Pan­day in 2001, widening the recruit­ment process of the Immigration Department to the general public, just like the Police, Army, Prisons, and Coast Guard, would have been undermined by this administration, if that rumour turns out to be true.

Tremendous Public Dissatisfaction

Having been acting in the posi­tion for over four years, there was tremendous public dissatisfaction concerning the modus operandi of the Immigration Department, es­pecially in the realm of the Public Service. Yet, the more significant and pressing question is whether or not this Public Service position as Chief Immigration Officer, which is under the Salaries Review Com­mission, ought not to have been le­gally advertised both internally and externally, and also to give lawful effect to the Equal Opportunity Act. Was this a position that was hidden from the public domain or was it politically machinated? These are some of the questions being asked by other senior and qualified Im­migration Officers who also were legitimately awaiting the advertise­ment normally sent by the Service Commissions Department.
Now, if the appointment was in fact made, without the position be­ing advertised internally as it used to be in the past, then there will ex­ist some form of public discrimina­tion as expressed in the Equal Op­portunity Act. May I point out that it is an opportunity for any national who feels that he or she may have the requisite qualifications and ex­perience to make an application for that position or any senior-level po­sition in the Public Service as, from time to time, the Service Commis­sions Department advertises in the national daily newspapers. Will the national community be deprived of that opportunity, and if the appoint­ment was in fact already made, can the current government bypass all the procedures that govern proce­dural fairness, bias, legality, legiti­mate expectations, aspects of ad­ministrative law and human rights? Can the government be taken to court for acting ultra vires and ex­ceeding their jurisdiction? History shall record whether advertising of this position was done.

Commonwealth Countries Advertise Nationally to Recruit the Best Talents

More civilized developed coun­tries under the common law system normally advertise Immigration positions locally. A look at the Civ­il Service practices of Kenya, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK, even the USA from whom we like to carbon copy so many things will show that the posts of Immi­gration officers are advertised, but are painfully slow to implement decisions for the general popula­tion as the politicians of all par­ties seek to control and consolidate these appointments for their ben­efit. Any public service would nor­mally recruit the best available tal­ents nationally to complement and implement government’s policies and programs. So why do we ap­pear retarded in this aspect? Yet our politicians and senior civil servants travel globally and observe how systems functions, so what about us here in Trinidad and Tobago? What happens to all the tertiary graduates in so many disciplines from both local and foreign universities and who can do a great job if given the opportunity? Then all their years of training and experience in languag­es, law, criminal justice, business administration, psychology, foren­sic investigation, criminology, hu­man rights, all these count for noth­ing? Is that equal opportunity and is it the accountable way of showing transparency in public affairs the way we treat our graduates?

Alleged rumour or factual appointment

Prior to the advent of the Venezu­elan humanitarian crisis, this same immigration officer now allegedly appointed immigration chief was under the radar for the challenges existing in the Immigration Depart­ment. A series of catastrophic deci­sions were taken at the management level of the Immigration Division including the handling of foreign detainees at the Immigration De­tention Centre, Valencia, low em­ployee morale, union grievances, unfair appointments at the junior and senior level, serious allegations of corruption within the Immigra­tion Department and involvement in organized crimes including hu­man trafficking and prostitution. At one point in time when corruption was rampant in the San Fernando Immigration office, this said im­migration officer publicly declared, “My hands are tied”.
Can you imagine giving pow­ers to persons who are being held with guns, another senior officer caught drunk and driving, another officer got a foreign detainee preg­nant and that national was hurried­ly removed from the Immigration Detention Centre and sent back to her home country, the Dominican Republic? An Immigration attaché posted to Caracas was virtually begging for his allowances and this said Immigration chief had him go­ing to the media to seek relief. Only last week, the Foreign Affairs Min­ister, whoever he is, said payments were made but to whom? But while all these problems were besmirch­ing the Immigration Division, the said Chief Immigration Officer was always taking a leaves of absence from the job, lengthy at best. There were also rumours circulating as to the said individual holding per­haps not only residency for another country, but also citizenship. Now if that is true, where is that person’s allegiance and how does it factor in the public service?
There is total dissatisfaction and disenchantment at the Immigration Division, with many officers com­promising their oaths of office in quest for supplementary income to cater for the high costs of living and to pander to their fashionable taste buds. At best, a robust examination and deep scrutiny would see a very dark disturbing picture of immigra­tion emerging, better known as “the dark side of immigration activities”. It will shock the nation prompting an emergency call for a mandatory Commission of Enquiry.

Equal Opportunity Act

In the Equal Opportunity Act of 2000, and under the caption “DIS­CRIMINATION IN EMPLOY­MENT”, it is patently clear that Section 8 which states, “An em­ployer or a prospective employer shall not discriminate against a per­son— (a) in the arrangements he makes for the purpose of determin­ing who should be offered employ­ment; (b) in the terms or conditions on which employment is offered; or (c) by refusing or deliberately omit­ting to offer employment.
And with respect to the state em­ployers, the following is included, State” includes— (a) Government Ministries; (b) Municipal Corpora­tions; (c) Statutory Authorities; (d) Enterprises owned or controlled by or on behalf of the State or which received funding from the State of more than two thirds of its total income in any one year; (e) Ser­vice Commissions; and (f) Tobago House of Assembly.
Thus, if such a decision was made, did the government via the Service Commissions Department deliberately omit to advertise this position under the rule of law and principles of natural justice? If the appointment was truly made, then such an appointment would be in­consistent with the principle of the rule of law, procedural fairness, discrimination, Public Service Regulations and can give rise to a successful judicial review, if it is satisfied that the government acted without jurisdiction or refuse to al­low the Service Commissions to exercise its jurisdiction. The same is also applicable if the government failed to observe the principle of natural justice, procedural fairness or other lawful procedures that it was required by law to observe in selecting and appointing a Chief Immigration Officer.
Certainly, in the public’s inter­est, it will be interesting to know how this decision was arrived at, if indeed it is so, and what part was played by politicians. Over to you Mr. Prime Minister, the temporary boss of public life.