President’s intervention to save Finance Minister from jailtime unlawful – High Court Judge

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High Court Judge, Justice Naresh Harnanan on Tuesday ruled that President David Granger’s intervention to save Finance Minister Winston Jordan from serving jailtime over an unpaid court judgement was unlawful and arbitrary.

In June 2019, Justice Priya Sewnarine-Beharry had granted a judgement of US$2.2 million to Trinidad-based construction company Dipcon, but Jordan refused to pay the sum and as such was found in contempt. However, as jailtime hung over his head, he was pardoned by the President who intervened.

On Tuesday, Justice Harnanan stated that the President’s intervention enabled and perpetuated continued defiance by the State through its finance minister of court orders and of the provisions of the State Liability and Proceedings Act, by insulating the Minister against the lawful consequences of default and contempt. He noted that it also perpetuated the default of the State of its obligations under orders by the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Additionally, Justice Harnanan pronounced that the presidential respite facilitated the continued deprivation of the fruits of judgement while leaving the successful litigant without any remedy or means to collect its lawful debts.

Dipcon’s lawyer, Timothy Jonas, who sought to challenge the validity of the respite, told this publication on Wednesday that Minister Jordan was by all means liable to be arrested if he failed to comply with the court’s order.

The Trinidad-based construction company had taken the Finance Minister to court for failing to honour the payment of millions of dollars, which was awarded by Justice Rishi Persaud in 2015.

After Dipcon took the Government to court back in 2009 to recover monies owed for road works done, Justice Persaud had ordered Government to pay the company US$665,032.17 as payment for the works done along with US$1,563,368.50 for costs it incurred for those works, together with interest on both amounts, at a rate of six per cent annum from February 10, 2009, to October 21, 2015 and thereafter at the rate of four per cent per annum until fully paid.

Jordan was given eight days to pay up the millions, during which time he was given a presidential pardon. He had expressed the view that he should not be responsible in his personal financial capacity for the State being sued when the matter is an inherited one.
Asked whether he was prepared to pay the money, the Minister had adopted a “wait-and-see attitude”.

Meanwhile, the Finance Ministry, through its public relations department, on Wednesday evening said that the Ministry paid Dipcon in December 2019.