The High Court’s decision not to block the implementation of the TT Revenue Authority (TTRA) pending a constitutional action brought by the Public Services Association (PSS) effectively clears the way for the Government’s plans.
While individual workers stand to be affected according to the claimants, and this is a matter for the court to evaluate, the ruling against the granting of an injunction effectively places the matter out of workers’ hands and more squarely within the court of public opinion and the electorate, whether at the upcoming local government election or otherwise.
This is fitting. There should always be a balance between the wider impact of state policy and the rights of individuals seeking redress. The court should not hesitate to protect the interests of litigants, especially when compensation may never provide appropriate redress. At the same time, the separation of powers dictates that executive action is not frustrated by an unelected court. A government should be allowed to govern.
There are circumstances in which a government should stay its hand as a matter of principle, as opposed to law, whenever it seeks to introduce far-ranging changes of law and policy. A good example is the interregnum between the dissolution of Parliament and a general election in which a government is more of a caretaker entity than an implementer of policy.
There is a strong case to be made for a government to desist from actions pending a court case, out of respect for the authority of the court and the possibility that a ruling could come down against it.
The PSA, as it confirmed its intention to appeal the failure to grant an injunction, also gave a compelling reason why an executive might plausibly pause its plans.
“If the TTRA is ultimately declared to be legally unconstitutional by the court, substantial sums of public money would have already been wasted in setting up and operationalising a white elephant and that money could have been utilised on paying decent salaries to public officers, repairing potholes and buying beds and medication for hospitals,” the PSA said.
However, as unfortunate as such an outcome would be, that is not a matter for the court. That is a matter for the electorate to assess and to decide on the basis of free and fair debate and elections.
That said, the piecemeal proclamation of legislation, while it is within the power of a cabinet, is not ideal. It is entirely within the purview of a court to scrutinise the impact of such exercises of executive power on citizens, as the recent Privy Council ruling on local government confirmed. It remains unsatisfactory that the Cabinet has seemingly opted to proclaim one section of the 2021 TTRA Act in a move that imposes a three-month time limit on any option for voluntary retirement.
But the political propriety of this should not be confused with its constitutionality. Nor should the possible fallout replace the real fallout of non-implementation. With no stay in place, the Government must be allowed to govern until such time as it is given a reason not to.