Acting Prison Commissioner wins lawsuit over promotion

Acting Commissioner of Prisons Deopersad Ramoutar. -
Acting Commissioner of Prisons Deopersad Ramoutar. -

ACTING Commissioner of Prisons Deopersad Ramoutar has successfully challenged a decision of the Public Service Commission to do a competency-based interview for retroactive promotion.

When he filed the claim, Ramoutar was acting deputy commissioner. The competency-based interview was expected to be held in August 2021 and he received an injunction that month blocking the PSC from holding the interview. An application to set aside the injunction was also refused.

Justice Kevin Ramcharan also granted Ramoutar permission to seek judicial review.

In September 2021, Ramoutar filed his judicial review claim challenging the commission’s decision to “arbitrarily institute a “competency-based interview” component to determine the suitability of candidates for retroactive promotion to the position of senior Superintendent of Prisons.”

At the time, he was ranked first for promotion to the post when assessed according to the existing criteria.

Ramoutar claimed the commission moved to introduce the requirement after he topped the list of candidates for promotion based on criteria set in 2014, and was awaiting retroactive promotion.

When Ramoutar first learned of the change in October 2020, he wrote to the commission seeking clarification but only received confirmation of receipt of his correspondence.

Ramoutar and his attorneys then wrote several letters asking for further information on what was being assessed in the proposed interview and the basis for it. On the month the interview was to be held, Ramoutar received correspondence from the PSC but his attorneys complained that the information provided showed that their client and his colleagues were being assessed on far more areas of competency than used during the previous promotion exercise, which Ramoutar topped.

The new areas being assessed were financial management, procurement, public-sector accounting practices, project management, and intimate knowledge of several pieces of legislation.

The attorneys argued that Ramoutar would be prejudiced if he was interviewed on criteria that were unlawful or which were introduced without sufficient notice, consultation, and unfairly. They said he would not have had sufficient time to prepare for the change of policy.

On Wednesday, Justice Ramcharan quashed the commission’s decision to hold the competency-based interview to assess Ramoutar’s competency for the position of senior superintendent for 2014-2017. He declared the move “irrational and unreasonable.”

At the time of the hearing of the application to set aside the injunction, the commission had argued that then-commissioner Dennis Pulchan was set to retire soon and the process of selecting a successor was affected by the injunction.

The commission submitted it would not be in the public’s interest to have the entire first division holding acting positions and 15 others affected by it, as the promotion process had been in train for a long time. It also argued Ramoutar had received training for areas in the competency-based interview.

Ramoutar sought a declaration that the new assessment was unlawful. He is expected to provide full reasons for his decision at a later date.

Ramoutar became acting Commissioner of Prisons on February 23 this year.

At the time, a release from the prison service said he had over 33 years of knowledge and committed service geared towards the mandates of the service, having served in all departments, with significant input in the welfare department.

Ramoutar was represented by Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Rhea Khan.

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