A former assistant commissioner of the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) has emerged victorious in her legal battle against Finance Minister Colm Imbert over being treated unfairly in her bid to be appointed chairman of the organisation.
Delivering judgment on Tuesday, High Court Judge Margaret Mohammed upheld Rohonie Ramkissoon’s judicial review lawsuit against Imbert.
Mohammed ruled that Imbert’s decision not to recommend Ramkissoon, who held the post as acting commissioner, for the position, was unlawful and quashed it.
According to the evidence in the case, the legal dispute began shortly before former BIR chairman Ravi Taklalsingh proceeded on pre-retirement leave in January 2021.
The Finance Minister’s permanent secretary wrote a memorandum to the Director of Personnel Administration seeking approval for a then-acting assistant commissioner to be appointed to the post.
Aggrieved by the decision, as her colleague had less experience than her and her fellow three commissioners, Ramkissoon’s lawyers wrote to President Paula-Mae Weekes questioning the proposed appointment.
After the President’s Office indicated she had not made the appointment, the permanent secretary indicated that the memorandum would be rescinded.
In February last year, Ramkissoon was called to a meeting with the permanent secretary and Imbert, in which she was told that it (the meeting) was an interview for the position.
During the meeting, Imbert allegedly questioned her about an investigation being conducted by the division’s Criminal Tax Investigation Unit (CTIU) into Value Added Tax (VAT) refunds to two taxpayers.
Ramkissoon admitted she was aware of the investigation but denied any wrongdoing, as she indicated that no allegations were levied against her.
The following month, Ramkissoon was informed she could not be recommended for the post based on the investigation.
In deciding the case, the judge ruled that Imbert did not act fairly, as he only asked Ramkissoon if she was aware of the investigation.
“She was not told that she was a person of interest or informed of the specific allegations against her which caused the Defendant to be concerned,” Mohammed said.
“She was not allowed to address the defendant’s concerns for denying her the position and therefore not treated fairly and denied natural justice,” she added.
Mohammed also ruled that Imbert acted irrationally in his handling of the interview.
“In my opinion, there was no evidence that the defendant considered that the persons who were involved in the approval of the payment of tax refunds were persons other than the Claimant and that the CTIU was still conducting enquiries where it did not name the claimant as a person of interest,” she said.
Mohammed rejected claims from Imbert’s legal team that Ramkissoon’s case was academic, as she could not be reconsidered for the position because she retired with the case still ongoing.
Saying the ministry used the wrong appointment procedure initially, the judge suggested that the judgement would assist Imbert when he has to make similar appointment recommendations in the future and would serve as a deterrent to avoid another misstep.
“In the absence of any legislative procedure to guide the Defendant, it is important that he understands that he has a duty to exercise his discretion lawfully, comply with the principles of natural justice and to act reasonably and rationally when making his decision,” Mohammed said.
As part of her decision in the case, Mohammed ordered the Finance Ministry to pay Ramkissoon’s legal costs.
Ramkissoon was represented by Dinesh Rambally, Kiel Taklalsingh, Stefan Ramkissoon and Kristy Mohan.
Martin Daly, SC, Christopher Sieuchand and Sashi Indarsingh represented Imbert.