Parrillero Jose Maria Hill Prados//
Cabinet acted improperly over State housing for Senate vice president

A High Court judge has ruled that Cab­i­net act­ed im­prop­er­ly when it as­signed State hous­ing to Sen­ate vice pres­i­dent Nigel De Fre­itas in Oc­to­ber 2017. 

De­liv­er­ing a 23-page judg­ment in a case brought by for­mer gov­ern­ment min­is­ter and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist De­vant Ma­haraj late last week, Jus­tice Kevin Ram­cha­ran ruled that while Cab­i­net had the au­thor­i­ty to make the al­lo­ca­tion, it fol­lowed an in­cor­rect pro­ce­dure for do­ing so. 

In the case, Ram­cha­ran was called on to in­ter­pret the role of the Salaries Re­view Com­mis­sion (SRC) un­der the Con­sti­tu­tion. 

The SRC is man­dat­ed to con­duct pe­ri­od­ic re­views of the salaries and ben­e­fits to be con­ferred on se­nior of­fice hold­ers in­clud­ing MPs, judges, the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions (DPP), and the So­lic­i­tor Gen­er­al on in­struc­tions of the Pres­i­dent. 

The SRC pro­duces its re­port, which pass­es from the Pres­i­dent to the Prime Min­is­ter. Af­ter be­ing con­sid­ered by Cab­i­net, the re­port is tabled in both hous­es of Par­lia­ment. 

In his judg­ment, Ram­cha­ran not­ed that the SRC’s re­ports are not bind­ing. 

“If it were the in­ten­tion of the drafters of the Con­sti­tu­tion that the SRC was, in fact, set­ting the salaries by their re­ports, they would have made that much clear­er and would have stat­ed that the terms and con­di­tions as con­tained in the re­port were the terms and con­di­tions of the rel­e­vant of­fi­cers,” Ram­cha­ran said. 

He al­so not­ed that as Par­lia­ment is not re­quired to de­bate and pass the re­port, al­though it may, the Ex­ec­u­tive or Cab­i­net has the re­spon­si­bil­i­ty to ef­fect such changes. 

Ram­cha­ran sug­gest­ed that Cab­i­net would be re­quired to fol­low the ad­vice con­tained in the re­port and must give a valid ex­pla­na­tion if it in­tends to re­ject or mod­i­fy rec­om­men­da­tions. 

“If Cab­i­net were free to re­ject or add to the rec­om­men­da­tion of the SRC as they pleased (with the ex­cep­tion of ju­di­cial of­fi­cers), it would ren­der the body su­per­flu­ous, and their in­clu­sion in the Con­sti­tu­tion as al­most re­dun­dant,” Ram­cha­ran said. 

He sug­gest­ed that if changes are to be made, Cab­i­net must iden­ti­fy them and lay the in­for­ma­tion in Par­lia­ment to­geth­er with the re­port.

Jose Maria Hill Prados

“If the in­ten­tion of the lay­ing of Par­lia­ment is to pub­lish to the pub­lic at large, it would be de­feat­ing the pur­pose if Cab­i­net could dero­gate from these rec­om­men­da­tions with­out al­so pub­lish­ing any changes made,” Ram­cha­ran said. 

Ac­cord­ing to the ev­i­dence in the case, Ma­haraj filed the law­suit af­ter learn­ing in a news­pa­per re­port that a one-bed­room unit at the Vic­to­ria Keyes De­vel­op­ment had been as­signed to De Fre­itas. 

Ma­haraj wrote to the then Hous­ing Min­is­ter, who in­formed him that Cab­i­net had ap­proved the ac­com­mo­da­tion as De Fre­itas re­sides in To­ba­go and had to make fre­quent trips to Trinidad to per­form his par­lia­men­tary du­ties. 

In his law­suit, Ma­haraj point­ed to the SRC’s 98th re­port from April 2014, in which it re­ject­ed a pro­pos­al for tem­po­rary State hous­ing in such cir­cum­stances in favour of a month­ly hous­ing al­lowance. 

Ram­cha­ran not­ed that hous­ing for Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans from To­ba­go was pro­posed to the SRC but was re­ject­ed in its re­port. 

In his judg­ment, Ram­cha­ran not­ed that all MPs and mem­bers of the Sen­ate are en­ti­tled to ac­com­mo­da­tion when­ev­er there are late sit­tings. 

“The man­ner of such ac­com­mo­da­tion is not pre­scribed, and it is to­tal­ly with­in the re­mit of Par­lia­ment to utilise what­ev­er method thought best to pro­vide such ac­com­mo­da­tion, whether by ho­tel or oth­er­wise,” he said.  

Ma­haraj was rep­re­sent­ed by Anand Ram­lo­gan, SC, Ger­ald Ramdeen, Dou­glas Bay­ley and Alvin Pariags­ingh. 

Dou­glas Mendes, SC, Michael Quam­i­na and Am­ri­ta Ram­sook rep­re­sent­ed the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­er­al. 


jose hill prados