Prisons boss gets injunction blocking senior promotions
The injunction granted yesterday on behalf of acting Prisons Commissioner Deopersad Ramoutar, preventing the Public Service Commission (PSC) from carrying out scheduled interviews for the post of Deputy Prisons Commissioner, has been viewed as a victory by both senior and junior prison officers who are yet to be confirmed in posts they currently hold.
The emergency application by attorneys Martin George & Co, filed in the High Court on March 30, was heard by Justice Frank Seepersad, who granted the injunction in favour of Ramoutar.
The interviews, which were scheduled to begin at 8 am yesterday, had to be hastily postponed following Thursday’s late-night judgment.
Ramoutar, who is the most senior prisons officer, had also placed first on the Prison Service Merit List since December 2020.
In a brief statement yesterday, Ramoutar’s attorneys claimed the interview process was artificially contrived by the PSC, and appeared designed after the fact to seek to undermine his position on the merit list.
Ramoutar is presently acting at a level four ranks above his substantive position of Superintendent of Prisons, as there are no persons currently in active duty and substantively appointed to the positions of Senior Superintendent of Prisons, Assistant Commissioner of Prisons, Deputy Commissioner of Prisons and Commissioner of Prisons.
The highest substantive position currently filled is Superintendent of Prisons.
George & Co argued that the PSC was seeking to breach an established practice and policy in the Prisons Service of not skipping ranks.
They alleged that this very policy had been acknowledged and admitted to, and endorsed by the PSC itself – which was now seeking to do interviews for the post of Deputy Commissioner of Prisons without first having filled the immediate next-level vacant post of Senior Superintendent of Prisons, which meant the PSC was breaking the said policy of not skipping ranks.
The lawyers argued that if the positions are filled in their natural and correct order – from Senior Superintendent of Prisons, to Assistant Commissioner of Prisons, to Deputy Commissioner of Prisons and then to Commissioner of Prisons -, Ramoutar would always retain his number one position on the merit list as well as his seniority.
“However, if the PSC is allowed to superimpose this new and arbitrarily contrived interview process as a supervening assessment over and above the established processes for assessing prisons officers for promotion, then the Acting Commissioner of Prisons could lose his No. 1 position on the Merit List, which the PSC had already assessed and awarded to him, using the already established assessment procedures as set out in the PSC Regulations and the Prisons Service procedures,” the lawyers argued.
In addition to the injunction, Seepersad also granted Ramoutar leave to pursue his application for Judicial Review against the PSC.
That matter will be heard on April 3.
Guardian Media understands that even as these legal arguments are undertaken, Ramoutar will continue to serve in the post as acting Prisons Commissioner.
A legal source assured, “Things remain the same.”
The official advised, “All citizens have a right to redress at the court. All officers in the Prison Service, ever so often, have issues, some are legitimate, some are not…but the Judiciary is quite robust and people have faith in the Judiciary as they look for justice in the courts.”
When contacted yesterday on the matter, Ramoutar declined to comment on the matters at hand.
Instead, he said, “There will be no difference in the operations of my office and I will continue to satisfy the mandate required of me. As long as I am Commissioner, I will keep on doing my best.”
A senior prison official told Guardian Media the injunction was addressing the promotional issue which had arisen, as it was a new system the PSC wanted to implement – and one which could see officers awaiting confirmation in their current posts being bypassed.
Another officer said, “The PSC has been really tardy in promoting within the Prison Service, so there are eight officers at the helm awaiting confirmation as the last promotion date was in 2015.”
The officers accused the PSC of bungling the promotion issue and moving now to effect damage control, which was instead, creating more damage.
“The new system of interview in 2023 could see the acting Commissioner and his colleagues being given a score mark to be applied seven years ago,” one said, adding, “They can’t do that. It is like stepping into a time machine and going back in the past and applying that to an assessment that was already done.
“This is akin to moving the goalpost in the middle of the game or when it is nearly done.”
The officers said all vacancies should have been filled before a new system is implemented.
By: Anna-Lisa Paul