Five months after registrar Andrew Dalip was suspended from the Environmental Commission, President George Maxwell Richards is seeking legal advice on whether the appointment of former Industrial Court judge Sandra Paul should be revoked as chairman. The shocking move follows a series of complaints that have surfaced against Paul alleging misbehaviour in public office. Among them are the issuing of catering contracts to a relative, and the breach of departmental and public sector policies relating to the granting of partial academic awards and procurement practices. The former judge, in an interview with Sunday Guardian yesterday, admitted that her sister was awarded a catering contract and the E F “Telly” Paul building the commission is housed in at the corner of St Vincent and New Streets is owned by her father Ethelbert Paul. In relation to the other claims, Paul indicated that it was difficult to respond “yes” or “no” to some of the issues raised. It was in October last year Paul had referred Dalip to the Judicial and Legal Commission following allegations of misconduct. He was subsequently suspended from the commission pending a report.
However, in an about turn, by letter dated March 6, Jacqueline Serrette, private secretary to the president, informed Dalip that the president is awaiting legal advice regarding invoking Section: 82 (7) of the Environmental Management Act, Chapter 35:05. The letter, that has been obtained by Sunday Guardian, stated: “Your complaints made by letter dated January 9, 2012 to His Excellency against Her Honour Ms Sandra Paul, chairman, Environmental Commission, invoking Section: 82 (7) of the Environmental Management Act Chapter 35:05 have been referred to Senior Counsel for advice to His Excellency. His Excellency awaits that advice before proceeding further on your said complaints. His Excellency has been assured that this advice will be rendered within a fortnight of today’s date.” The Act states: “The President may remove from office any member of the commission for inability, misbehaviour or on the ground of any employment or interest which is incompatible with the functions of a member of the commission.” Paul, who also served as a magistrate in the Judiciary of T&T, was appointed to head the commission for a third consecutive three-year term commencing December 2009.
Sunday Guardian further learnt that the Auditor General’s department also raised a red flag questioning several financial transactions during the period June 27 to July 22, 2011.
Documents stated that during this time frame, Dalip, who was also appointed accounting officer of the commission, was on vacation leave.
Sunday Guardian has obtained a copy of the allegations against Paul that is at present engaging the attention of the President.
In relation to the academic awards, the allegation stated that Paul had an integral part to play in the granting of partial academic awards to the sum of $43,269 to an acting administrative officer.
The awards that covered two academic years are listed as followed:
• For the 2011/2012 academic year—an award of $13,476 in respect of tuition fees and books
• For the 2011/2012 academic year—an award of $14,824 in respect of tuition fees
• For the 2010/2011 academic year—an award of $14,969 in respect of tuition fees and books
According to documents, the sum represents the entire cost of tuition and books minus Government Assistance for Tertiary Expenses (GATE). Under Cabinet-approved public policy, such awards do not allow for payment of the entire cost of tuition, nor do they allow for payment of both tuition and books. Regarding claims of nepotism, the allegations stated that approximately $.5 million has been spent to upgrade the building where the commission is located, which is owned by Paul’s father. Documents showed that until recently the commission occupied the ground and first floor of the building. Following the availability of the second floor in the building, a decision was taken to acquire the space for use of additional courtroom and mediation facilities. Apart from the monthly rental, documents stated that approximately $282,937.49 in recurrent expenditure on repairs/remodeling the building has been spent. A further $264,964.26 was spent between 2010 to 2011 on renovations to the office of the chairman and deputy chairman. The selection of a particular caterer for events has also been cited as a conflict of interest after it is alleged that the company Separate Tables Caterers is owned by Paul’s sister. It is alleged the company received $49,433.75 in contracts to date. Meanwhile, Sunday Guardian understands that the judicial conduct and Paul’s decision making have also come into question relating to the following matter—Environmental Management Authority (EMA) versus Michael Trestrail. It is alleged that Paul granted the EMA an injunction against Trestrail. The Court of Appeal stated that jurisdiction of the commission is limited to what is specified in the Environmental Management Act, Chapter 35:05. What this means is that the granting of injunctions as an independent relief is outside the jurisdiction of the commission. The Court of Appeal has previously criticised two rulings by the commission. The matters involved—South West Tobago Fishermen’s Association, and Fishermen and Friends of the Sea.
Paul admits to catering contract but...
Commenting on the allegations yesterday, Paul said the building that houses the commission, of which she is chairman, is owned by her father. The building was rented to Government in 2000. “The building is owned by my father but again I have no authority to issue any instructions regarding repairs. It is not within my purview. The government of T&T rents the building and I do not issue any instructions with respect to repairs. I am aware the commission is housed there and I am also aware that the Commission of Enquiry is utilising the second floor. The Prime Minister’s office made the second floor office habitable for the secretariat and commissioners of the enquiry but I have had no direct involvement in that. It is not something within my purview at all.” Asked whether she had any part to play in ensuring that commission acquired the second floor of the building, Paul denied any involvement in the transaction. Questioned whether her sister has catered for functions at the commission, Paul replied: “To answer yes and no to those questions is a bit difficult. She has catered for functions but I hosted them at my home in an effort to minimise cost as to hosting functions at a hotel. It is not a straight question of yes and no. She would have catered after other people were invited to submit quotes.” On the issue of the academic awards, Paul replied: “I do not issue awards for scholarships. You are asking me questions that a yes and no answer sometimes may not paint the correct picture.”
When contacted yesterday, Dalip refrained from commenting except to say that he was awaiting the outcome of the matter.