by Derek Achong
The Government can go ahead with its plans to replace the Customs and Excise Division (CED) and the Inland Revenue Division (IRD) with the T&T Revenue Authority (TTRA) by August.
Delivering a decision, a short while ago, High Court Judge Betsy-Ann Lambert-Peterson dismissed an injunction application from customs officer Terrisa Dhoray seeking to postpone the implementation pending the determination of her substantive case over the move.
"After weighing the relative risks in granting or refusing the interim relief sought, I have concluded that the Defendant should not be restrained, even by interim relief, from exercising its statutory powers or doing its duty towards the public at large," Justice Lambert-Peterson said.
As part of her decision, Justice Lambert-Peterson noted that Dhoray's challenge over the validity of the move was not so "firmly based" to justify the injunction. She also noted that Dhoray's lawyers failed to prove that she would suffer irremediable harm without the injunction in place.
"To grant interim relief in the circumstances presented by the parties is likely to do more harm than good since the Defendant's case appears to be stronger than that of the Claimant," Justice Lambert-Peterson said.
In the lawsuit, Dhoray is challenging the constitutional validity of the T&T Revenue Act 2021, which prescribed the long-touted shift.
She is contending that certain segments of the legislation are unconstitutional as they seek to interfere with the terms and conditions of employment of public servants currently assigned to the CED and IRD.
The lawsuit specifically focuses on Section 18 of the legislation which was proclaimed by President Christine Kangaloo on April 24.
The section gives public servants three months to make a decision on their future employment upon the operationalisation of the TTRA.
Affected public servants have the choice to voluntarily resign from the Public Service, accept a transfer to the TTRA, or be transferred to another office in the Public Service.
After the proclamation, employees of both divisions were given TTRA employee information packages and were given a timeline for the TTRA's implementation, which was suggested to begin in August.
Presenting submissions on the injunction, last Friday, Dhoray's lawyer Anand Ramlogan, SC, claimed that the Government was going ahead with its plans despite the pending application.
"We are saying that if they transfer they would no longer be public servants or enjoy the protections associated with such. This affects thousands of workers," Ramlogan said.
Dealing with an affidavit filed by Finance Minister Colm Imbert, Ramlogan questioned his (Imbert) claim that the injunction would hamper the country's ability to collect taxes and have a knock-on effect on the country's international credit ratings.
Ramlogan pointed to a statement from Imbert from 2020 in which he praised the IRD for exceeding their tax collection targets following a tax amnesty.
"The doom and gloom story if this does not happen is a scare tactic," Ramlogan said.
He pointed to statistics that showed that the IRD and CED were severely understaffed.
"They are advertising for staff when they are starving the existing institutions...They (existing staff) are doing the best for the country based on their limited resources," he said.
He also maintained that the TTRA was not immune from political interference as touted.
"The minister is the puppet master and the TTRA's strings are attached to his fingers," Ramlogan said.
Responding to the submissions, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes called on Justice Lambert-Peterson to dismiss the application.
"This is a case where they are asking the court to suspend the operation of legislation. It is in force until the court makes an order that it is unconstitutional," Mendes said.
"You are not allowed to second guess Parliament's intention in passing the act," he added.
He also pointed out that if staff make decisions on their future employment based on the legislation, they would be reinstated if Dhoray eventually succeeds in her substantive case.
"If an act is found to be unconstitutional then it is null void and of no effect. They are to be treated as they were always employed," Mendes said.
"What prejudice are they going to suffer?" he added.
Mendes also stated that the oversight of the Finance Minister was permitted.
"There is nothing unusual with the minister exercising a degree of control," he said.