The acting CEO of the state-owned Roads, Buildings & General Services Authority (BRAGSA) may have learnt a lesson on Tuesday: when the court summons, you obey.
As the assizes opened at High Court No. 1 in the decaying 200-year-old building that parliamentarian vacated in June, Justice Brian Cottle summoned acting CEO of BRAGSA, Natoya Thomas to appear before him.
The judge took the decision after the court failed for about two months to get BRAGSA to replace a light bulb, attend to a broken lock and fix damaged ceiling in the judge’s chambers.
The judge ordered police officers assigned to the court to bring Thomas before him to explain why BRAGSA had given the court “no joy”, even after he had personally made repeated calls to her office.
Police officers dispatched to bring Thomas before the court met her at the compound of the Ministry of Transportation and Works, less than a block from the court, touring a construction site.
iWitness News was reliably informed that after the police officers told Thomas that the court had summoned her, she was reluctant to comply.
One of the persons present is said to have asked the most senior of the officer, who was dressed in plainclothes, his badge number and threatened to report him to the acting Prime Minister, Montgomery Daniel.
Thomas was obviously not pleased when she appeared before the court, where Justices Cottle and Rickie Burnett were presiding.
Justice Cottle, as he does whenever he summons people to court, told Thomas that he was sorry that the court had to ask her to appear before him.
The judge told Thomas that the court had been trying to get some assistance from BRAGSA for a couple months “without any joy.
“So, I am hoping you would be able to explain to me what is the difficulty.”
“Could you care to elaborate a bit more on what are the specifics?”
The judge told her that the security door to his inner chambers was insecure.
“Meaning that it requires a lock?” Thomas said.
“I don’t know. You are the expert. You will decide what you want to do with it,” the judge said.
He added that the keypad was not working “so that persons can walk in off the street and walk into the judge’s chambers. And that is not an ideal situation.”
The judge said that if someone were to walk into the chambers, they would be confronted by fallen ceiling but they might not be able to see that because the area is completely dark.
The bulb needs to be replaced and I have asked for that bulb to be replaced more than two months ago.”
He said an officer from BRAGSA came by on July 23 and said he would have returned the following day.
“I have not seen them,” the judge said, adding that efforts were made repeatedly to contact the CEO.
“I called myself on Friday to be told that you couldn’t speak to me, you were in a meeting.”
The judge said he asked Thomas’ office to call him back but nobody bothered to do so.
He said he called on Monday but nothing happened and when he called Tuesday morning — before summoning Thomas — he was told that she was unavailable.
“So, I asked the police to seek you out and to bring you,” Justice Cottle told Thomas.
Thomas confirmed that she and the judge had spoken on the phone on Monday about the same issues he mentioned in court.
“Is that correct? And I did take the information and I would have indicated that we would have attended to these. Right?” Thomas said.
“I haven’t seen any attention to them,” the judge responded.
Thomas said she could not recall the exact time when she and the judge spoke but it was in the afternoon.
“The information was relayed to the team because as the chief executive officer, I don’t deal with these things personally,” the acting CEO told the court.
She said the team had been out dealing with “other emergencies”, adding that the engineer assistant who deals with those matters was outside to look into the issues at the judge’s chambers.
“This morning when you called, it was not in the office,” Thomas said, adding that she was at the Ministry of Transport and Works building, doing a walk through where BRAGSA is executing a project with a contractor and another engineer.
“I was taken from up there by the officers who did not explain to me what was the nature of this and here I am.”
The judge said that the officers did not need to explain why the court had summoned her.
He said that if the court orders the officers to bring someone before the court, their duty is simply to bring the person.
Thomas said, “But I would have liked if there was some sort of explanation.”
She said she had promised her office that she would have made contact with the judge when she returned.
“But I was taken from an engagement to come here,” Thomas said.
Justice Cottle began saying that he did not know how Thomas could have contacted her officer “because when I called the office, I was told that you were not in–”
“The office called me,” Thomas interjected.
“They couldn’t possibly call you,” the judge said.
“Yes. The office called me.”
“They couldn’t possibly call you because –” the judge was saying when Thomas interjected that she had the records in her phone.
“You want to know why I say that?” Justice Cottle continued. “Because I asked, ‘Do you have a cell phone number for Ms Thomas so that I can call her for myself. I was told, ‘No, we have no such number.”
The judge said the receptionist told him that perhaps he should get somebody from the personnel department then hung up
Thomas responded: “It is company policy that the receptionist does not give out phone numbers of the workers. There is a process we go through. We take the complaint and it is passed to the person responsible.”
The judge said that is her process and he has his.
“I understand that and I am here today to try to resolve it,” Thomas said. “I am just not in agreement with the way it was done.”
Justice Cottle commented:
“Yes. That is clear from your tone and your attitude. And let me also make it very clear that from this end that we’re not happy with … the lack of responses we’ve had from your organisation for the past two months.”
He noted that it was not a situation that had developed the previous day “and we suddenly decided that we’d drag you here from your very important meeting to explain.
“This is something that has been going on for a long time and we have been having no joy,” the judge said.
“Many, many calls have been made to your organisation by my staff before I personally had to intervene by the end of last week.”
Thomas told the judge that when they spoke on Monday, she had indicated that it was the first time that she had received the complaint.
“And I have tried to resolve it. It was not done yesterday but I am hoping to have it done this morning,” she said.
She told the court that other members of her staff were there with her to see what the issues were.
Correction: Thomas’ first name is “Natoya” and not “Latoya” as initially stated.