THE SEIZURE of assets from the premises of the Siparia Regional Corporation on Tuesday represents a low point not only for that entity but for the entire system of local government.
The action stemmed from a court matter in which a former employee of the corporation sued after he was injured on the job in 2011. A falling plank damaged his spine while he was constructing a box drain, and judgment was granted in his favour a year ago. The corporation was ordered to pay damages of $750,000. However, as of Tuesday, the funds were not paid, and bailiffs moved in.
Why did the situation have to come to this? Not only is it an embarrassment for the corporation but it sends the wrong signal to the public at large. At a time when law and order is constantly under threat due to the increasingly brazen actions of criminals, it sends a message that court orders can be flouted. If the State is ignoring the law, what are we to expect from citizens?
The reasons offered by corporation chairman Dr Glenn Ramadharsingh are unsatisfactory.
“We got a copy of a judgment that was delivered on April 24, 2017, which said we have to pay… $750,000,” Ramadharsingh told the media. “We agreed to pay this money. We were just working out the payment method.”
He said the corporation did not have the funds to make the payment “because this was an extraordinary request and amount.” He indicated $50,000 is normally budgeted for legal expenses.
The timeline set out by the chairman suggests the corporation has had more than enough time to get its house in order. Even if that were not possible, the corporation also had the option of approaching the court to work out a more manageable payment schedule. Were efforts made to engage the former employee or the court on this point when the time came for the assessment of damages or subsequently?
The impression left is that this legal matter was well known to the corporation, but it has acted as though the debt has come out of the blue. That cannot be the way any public body does business. And at its heart, the worksite injury which is the genesis of this entire situation is itself an indictment of the corporation. Too many advances have been made on the issue of health and safety at work. We cannot afford to have State institutions now regressing by flouting our safety laws.
Either way, this entire situation does not bode well for the Siparia Regional Corporation. It may well be true that there is the need for a faster mechanism for urgent disbursals, but pending such a mechanism, the corporation should not find itself in a situation where bailiffs are coming into its property in the first place.