The High Court will deliver its decision tomorrow on whether it will grant an injunction preventing Government from substituting the Customs and Excise Division (CED) and the Inland Revenue Division (IRD) with the Trinidad and Tobago Revenue Authority (TTRA).
Justice Betsey-Ann Lambert-Peterson was expected to make the decision on Friday but following oral submissions from Senior Counsel Anand Ramlogan and Douglas Mendes, the judge said she needed time to consider the respective arguments before arriving at her decision.
Last month Ramlogan led a team of attorneys on behalf of Customs officer Terrisa Dhoray by filing court proceedings asking for injunctive relief, claiming that the proclamation of section 18 of the TTRA Act, would place the careers of public servants at Customs and the IRD in jeopardy.
As Dhoray is part of the court action, the attorneys were also asking for an urgent hearing.
It was granted.
During his submissions Ramlogan made reference to affidavits filed in the matter by an “expert witness” for the State.
Based on what was stated in the affidavit and that of Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Ramlogan pointed out the only reason why Government wanted to make the replacement was in an attempt to obtain further tax revenue.
“It is not the TTRA that they just want to implement. The reason for doing so is to receive more tax revenue,” said Ramlogan.
“The Minister (of Finance) is a puppet master and the strings are attached to his fingers,” argued Ramlogan.
He stated that based on the evidence of the State’s own witnesses, they themselves were in disagreement with the proposed action of Government.
Senior Counsel Mendes however invited the court to refuse the application for injunctive relief.
He said the question in the case was whether there was even a serious issue to be tried in the first place.
He questioned what prejudice will be suffered by the claimants if the Act were to come into force.
“The Act makes allowances for taxes to be put in a consolidated fund. So you would expect a degree of oversight by the Minister of Finance. There is nothing unusual with the minister exercising a degree of control. What prejudice will they (employees at the IRD and CED) suffer? The answer is none,” said Mendes.
Dhoray had first filed her constitutional claim in July last year seeking declarations against the replacement of the CED and IRD.
In Dhoray’s application Ramlogan claimed that at the time the case was filed, only certain portions of the Act were proclaimed by the Office of the President.
Those proclaimed sections did not deal with the employment status of public servants.
But on April 24, President Christine Kangaloo issued a legal notice proclaiming section 18 of the Act, that is to come into effect from August 1.
Section 18 gives public servants just three months to decide their employment future upon the operationalisation of the TTRA.
The section gives them the option to voluntarily resign from the Public Service, accept a transfer to the TTRA or be transferred to another office in the Public Service.
In the application, the attorneys stated that their client and her colleagues would be made to suffer irreparable harm if the State was not prevented from fully implementing the TTRA pending the outcome of her substantive case.
“Public officers would have been forced to make an important and potentially life-changing decision on the basis of a law which may be subsequently found and declared to be illegal and unconstitutional,” they said.
“…It is in the public interest for this claim to proceed on an expeditious basis with an order protecting and preserving the present status quo pending the hearing and determination of this claim because it affects a significant percentage of the public service which is the single largest workforce in the country,” the application stated.
The attorneys further pointed out that their client was pursuing the case with the full support of the Public Services Association (PSA), the trade union that represents 2,175 employees within the IRS and CED.
In his affidavit, PSA president Leroy Baptiste said there was never any consultation between the Government and the PSA before the recent proclamation.
He said even though the PSA was expected to be provided with information on potential issues that would affect its members, the Chief Personnel Officer (CPO) only stated that his department was working on voluntary separation packages (VSEP) for employees.
Baptiste said TTRA chairman Nigel Edwards sought to consult with workers despite engaging in dialogue with the PSA.
This was an “insulting” move, he said.
“These employees became frustrated and approached the PSA for information, and regrettably, the union could not assist as it had not been privy to any information from or discussions with the TTRA or the State regarding the sudden proclamation of Section 18 and operationalisation of the TTRA,” Baptiste stated in his affidavit.
Appearing alongside Ramlogan for Dhoray are attorneys Jayanti Lutchmedial, Kent Samlal, Robert Abdool-Mitchell, Natasha Bisram and Vishaal Siewsaran.