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Vital evidence withheld

Contempt motion against PSA head
Saturday, July 26, 2014

A senior manager with the Occupational Safety and Health Authority (Osha), who ruled that health and safety issues at the Immigration Division’s Port-of-Spain office were not hazardous to staff, has admitted to withholding evidence vital to his assessment. The authority’s Chief Inspector Gaekwad Ramoutar made the admission yesterday. 

He was giving evidence in the Industrial Court in the contempt motion against Public Services Association (PSA) president Watson Duke for allegedly breaching an injunction, granted on July 3, preventing staff at the building from engaging in industrial action. The issue arose while Duke’s lead attorney Douglas Mendes, SC, was questioning Ramoutar’s decision to overturn his organisation’s inspection report on the building, which found the department was non-compliant with 22 requirements under health and safety legislation.

As he sought to discredit Ramoutar’s assessment, Mendes asked why he failed to tell the court that shortly after the report was prepared, a day after the injunction was granted, his department’s inspector Dr Rosalie Holder advised him that action should be taken against the department for its non-compliance. “I have no particular reason for doing so,” Ramoutar said. Mendes described Ramoutar’s omission as extraordinary and disturbing. 

“He is not attempting to assist in the administration of justice, he is attempting to thwart it,” Mendes told Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix and her four colleagues presiding over the case. Although Ramoutar acknowledged that the department’s handling of several health and safety issues was not acceptable, he said from his overall analysis, he did not think the action suggested by Holder was necessary. 

He also said her failure to consult with him on the issue within a day of the inspection led him to assume there was no imminent danger to staff which would warrant shutting down the building. Mendes tried to press the issue further by referring to an e-mail exchange between Ramoutar and Holder, but had to reserve that aspect of his cross-examination, as copies of the e-mails were not available. Ramoutar’s cross-examination resumes on Monday.