The Public Services Association’s (PSA) executive has been ordered to immediately follow proper procedure for approval of expenditure of money as a High Court judge held there was sufficient evidence of unlawful expenditure at the union.
Devindra Rampersad made the order as he articulated his findings in a written decision in which he ordered the PSA executive, led by president Watson Duke, to hold timely audits of its finances.
Rampersad, on January 10, granted several orders to a group of PSA members who have referred to themselves as concerned public officers. The concerned public officers filed a claim in January complaining that proper procedures were not being followed by the PSA executive for approval of expenditure and conduct of union affairs.
In his ruling, which was reduced in writing and provided on Wednesday, Rampersad said, “The court is satisfied there is sufficient evidence in relation to the unlawful expenditure.” He added the court was also satisfied of failure by the executive to hold section elections and provide proper audited accounts. In ordering that proper procedures be followed, for approval of expenditure, the judge said it means the PSA has to have the proper annual general conference. He also said holding of “all section” elections must take place by February 14, and proper, timely audits of the union’s accounts, conducted within a reasonable period of becoming due and on completion of the previous year’s audit, with a view to determining the state of the finances which will assist in determining the actual number of financial members.
Duke’s executive also has to, before the end of January, provide an updated report on the status of the 2015 audit and time lines for submitting any outstanding request made by the auditor in order to complete it. Additionally, the judge ordered that accurate membership lists for each year be compiled within 30 days of the respective audit reports, once the number financial members of the PSA is ascertained.
As it relates to the appointment of an election committee, he said the court was reluctant to grant any relief, since it was unclear as to the proper procedure for it but noted that Justice Nadia Kangaloo, in another matter involving the PSA, had given a deadline for a voters’ list to be provided by February 2, 2018. He said since that list was dependent on the outcome of the audit, until the latter is done, the list ordered cannot be properly compiled.
The judge also pointed out in his decision that the claim of the concerned public officers had “proceeded as undefended.” However, Duke described it as a “consent order.” He also said the PSA had been ready and willing to audit its accounts since 2014, and all the spending at the union was “above board.” He placed the Labour Ministry for failing to send an auditor.
In an immediate response, Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus on January 14, rejected Duke’s claims, describing the PSA president’s statements as “preposterous, self-serving and downright dishonest.”
She also said auditors were appointed to review the PSA’s financial statements of 2015.2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019,and March 19, 2016; February 10, 2017; January 29, 2018 and January 14, 2019 respectively.
“Contrary to your allegations, they show that the last audited statement submitted by the PSA was for the year 2014 and this was received by the ministry on August 13, 2019, five years late,” the minister said in a statement. Duke has also alleged that “PNM mischief makers” within the PSA are trying to disrupt the organisation in an attempt to undermine him ahead of the 2020 general elections. Appearing for the concerned public officers were attorneys Timothy Affonso and Manisha Lutchman while Duke and his executive were represented by attorneys Ravi Rajkumar, John Heath and Lionel Luckhoo.