Suspension lifted, Commissioner of Lands wants back job

THANKS KEITH: Commissioner of State Lands Paula Drakes with her attorney Keith Scotland at his Port of Spain office  on Thursday. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB -
THANKS KEITH: Commissioner of State Lands Paula Drakes with her attorney Keith Scotland at his Port of Spain office on Thursday. PHOTO BY ROGER JACOB -

CLEARED by the courts after she fought a five-year suspension, during which time she survived on half pay, Commissioner of State Lands Paula Drakes says she wants back her job.

After the May 10 ruling by Justice Carol Gobin, Drakes reportedly hand-delivered a letter to the Director of Personnel Administration on Thursday, asking to be immediately reinstated as commissioner.

Asked her feelings on the outcome of the case, Drakes told Newsday it was not about how she felt. She said she hopes a similar situation would not happen again and that the court’s ruling will be used to guide the process going forward.

On Wednesday, the court ruled in favour of Drakes in a judicial review matter she brought against the Public Service Commission after she was suspended for misconduct in May 2018.

Six initial charges were subsequently withdrawn, but a new set of charges, emanating from the same issue, was brought against her and a second suspension notice served in July 2018.

Contending that the decision to withdraw the initial charges without reason, and then re-lay identical charges was irrational, unfair, unreasonable, unjustified, unconscionable and a breach of natural justice, Drakes ,through her attorney Keith Scotland, filed for judicial review.

She sought reliefs and administrative orders including for the court to quash the commission's decision to prosecute her on disciplinary charges, which she has vehemently denied. She also asked for her suspension to be lifted and also expunged from her record, plus compensation for salary lost.

Gobin ruled in favour of her reinstatement and awarded aggravated and exemplary damages and costs, all of which are to be assessed by the registrar on a date to be fixed.

The judge ruled that the decision to interdict her from duty, to withhold half of her salary and also to deny her the opportunity to attend the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ conference in the Bahamas in 2019 were illegal.

Gobin declared that the PSC had no jurisdiction to invoke disciplinary proceedings against Drake, who was appointed commissioner on October 10, 2016.

She found the decision to prefer charges, withdraw and then lay new and similar charges, contrary to the Civil Service (Amendment) 1996 Regulations, was irrational, an abuse of process and in breach of natural justice.

“I have found the decision to withdraw and re-lay to be unlawful and unreasonable for the following additional reasons. At the specific point in time of the withdrawal of the charges, which were a nullity, it would seem to me that the disciplinary process in relation to those charges (the culmination) must have come to a dead stop.

“If, as counsel for the respondent conceded, the PSC had no jurisdiction to amend, then it seems to me upon the withdrawal, there was nothing subsisting on the basis of which new charges could be preferred. The entire process had to be restarted. This is more so since, for the first time the new charges included the words 'without reasonable excuse.'”

“In determining whether the decision to withdraw and relay with the ensuing delay should stand, I have considered that the claimant has suffered and will continue to suffer material prejudice if further time is allowed to the respondent to prosecute new charges. In the circumstances the decision to do so will be quashed.”

The judge ordered the six disciplinary charges against Drakes withdrawn and that she be reinstated in her substantive post forthwith.


"Suspension lifted, Commissioner of Lands wants back job"

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