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Transport Minister Stephen Cadiz and two senior public servants appeared alongside one another in court yesterday to answer charges related to an alleged breach of health and safety regulations at the Licensing Office in Port-of Spain. Cadiz, his ministry’s permanent secretary Verna Johnson and Transport Commissioner Reuben Cato stood silently in the prisoners’ dock of the Port-of-Spain Eighth Magistrates Court as the charges under the Occupational Safety and Health Act were read to them. Chief Magistrate Marcia Ayers-Caesar presided.
The three officials spoke only when they were called upon to plead to the private complaints which were filed by the Public Services Association (PSA) last month after it led a week of protests at the Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain office. They all denied the allegations. According to the charges, laid under Section 26 (2) of the act, the three officials are accused of operating the office without having a certificate from the Fire Services related to the approval of the building’s fire escapes. The PSA alleges that the breach occurred between October 25 last year and October 14 this year. The act makes it an offence to run an establishment without a certificate and says if found guilty of the offence, the occupier is liable to a $10,000 fine and up to six months’ imprisonment. It also provides for a $1,000 fine for each day the offence continues.
After the charges were read, attorney Jagdeo Singh, who is representing the officials, said his clients were seeking an adjournment and would be pursuing a preliminary issue during the next hearing. Singh’s request was not opposed by Ria Reyes, who appeared on behalf of Keith St Cyr, the licensing officer whose name was listed on the three complaints. PSA president Watson Duke and several licensing officers, who were in uniform, were in court for the brief hearing. Ayers-Caesar then adjourned the matter to December 18. The officials are also being represented by Michael Rooplal, while Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal is leading Reyes.