A bitter row has erupted between president of the Prisons Officers' Association Rajkumar Ramroop and the association's general secretary Burton Hill which has led to Hill's suspension on Wednesday. And according to Hill, the incident mirrored that of the Public Services Association's where dissident PSA members tried to oust president Watson Duke. Several times last year, heavily-armed police officers were forced to storm the PSA's headquarters at Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain, after violent fights erupted. In confirming Hill's suspension, Ramroop said yesterday that the decision to suspend Hill was taken at an executive meeting which was supported by fellow officers. "We had a meeting at the executive level, following which the decision to suspend was taken and it was well supported," Ramroop said.
He also accused Hill of "colluding with the enemy" and conducting illegal affairs which he claimed was to the detriment of the association. The rift came on the heels of heightened protest action by a handful of prisons officers who gathered outside the building of the Public Service Commission on Cipriani Boulevard, Port-of-Spain, demanding the removal of chairman Christopher Thomas and Director of Personnel Administration (DPA) Gloria Edwards-Joseph. For two weeks, some disgruntled prisons officers have been accusing the commission of failing to fill vacancies, which have existed since 2009, within the Prisons Service. At yesterday's protest, Ramroop cited that in 2009, 65 Prisons Officers I, who were successful in promotion examinations in 2003, were promoted, and 40 of the existing 80 vacancies in Cabinet Minute Number 1758 were filled.
However, there remained an additional 40 vacant positions of Prisons Officer II from the Cabinet Minute. Ramroop said he had gathered some 500 signatures from prisons officers working at the various facilities which demanded an investigation into the runnings of the commission and the operations of the DPA. Copies of the petitions are expected to be presented to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar next Friday. A letter outlining the concerns of the prisons officers was also expected to be delivered to the Prime Minister today. Ramroop said the commission was established with the aim of being fair to all public officers, yet that was not the case with prisons officers. "The Prisons Officers Association wishes to make it indelibly clear it does not support the point-based system proffered by the Director of Personnel Administration for promotion in the Second Division of the Trinidad and Tobago Prisons Service," he said. In response to his dismissal yesterday, Hill accused Rajkumar of carrying out an "illegal suspension," saying he intended to pursue all his options.
"I am not afraid to demit office, but we have a president who is acting without any authority, without any support from the general membership and my suspension is totally illegal," Hill said. He said the reason he was suspended was because he was "merely informing officers of their rights." "I have done absolutely nothing wrong," he said. "All I did was distribute information to the members and inform them of their rights and certain things, of which they must be made aware. "It would now be up to them what course of action they would want to take and what they want to do after they have been properly informed," Hill said. Insisting that he was an elected officer, Hill also accused Rajkumar of "being the sole judge and jury," and of "using the commission for his own benefit."
He said: Mr Rajkumar is acting in a very high-handed manner and this situation is just like that of the PSA because the president is acting without any authority and contrary to the constitution. "The handful of officers who are protesting are being misled and they are not aware of information which is not being distributed," Hill charged. He also accused Rajkumar of failing to call meetings as was mandated by the constitution. The association's elections are expected to take place in March. To prove his innocence, Hill said he intended to cite the association's constitution and the Prisons Service Act and also intended to take the matter to the Registrar General. Wage negotiations for prisons officers were in the third year and Hill said there was no word on how the matter was progressing as no meetings were being called.