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.