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Clerk of the House of Assembly, Deborah Charles, left, and her deputy, Simone Williams-Huggins. (Photos: API/Facebook)
Clerk of the House of Assembly, Deborah Charles, left, and her deputy, Simone Williams-Huggins. (Photos: API/Facebook)
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The Public Service Union has sponsored a lawsuit challenging the appointment of Deborah Charles as clerk of the House of Assembly and Simone Williams-Huggins as her deputy. 

Union president Elroy Boucher told the media on Thursday that the lawsuit against the Public Service Commission (PSC) was filed in the High Court on Oct. 11, 2023 and had its first hearing on Dec. 12.

Trial is set for May 17 or 24.

The union is optimistic that the claimant, Selena McDonald, will triumph as the appointments are being challenged on similar grounds as a 2019 case sponsored by the union, in which the court ruled in favour of the claimant. 

In the 2019 case, the High Court ruled that the PSC had failed to comply with specific Public Service Regulations in respect of the non-promotion of five public officers during their respective periods in the public service of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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The officers were overlooked for promotion even as persons who were less qualified and experienced than they, others who they trained, and relatives of high-ranking public officers, some of whom had no relevant training or experience, moved ahead. 

“So, the continued violation of the regulations and the continued ignoring of the judgment itself is a problem for the Public Service Union,” he said.

“… it is a matter of ensuring transparency and justice within the promotion system within the public service. You couldn’t have fought that for so many years and then we’re having the same thing as if we never brought a case to court.”

He said that the chase against the appointment of the clerk and deputy clerk, “because of the persons who are involved, … one might say well, it borders on the political realm but it’s not. 

“It’s purely a matter of appointment within the public service,” Boucher said.

He said McDonald, who holds a master’s degree, and worked in the department of the House of Assembly for some 15 years, is qualified to fill the post. 

“And, in times in the past, whenever the clerk or the deputy clerk had been out, she had acted in the position, so she understands the job,” Boucher said.

He, however, said that McDonald was reassigned to the Ministry of Agriculture a few years ago but is still attached to the House of Assembly. 

“And it is alleged that that the assignment was to pave the way for someone else to fill the position of Deputy Clerk of the House,” Boucher said.

“Those are some practices that go on in public service. If you are so qualified, and potentially you can fill a position, and there is somebody who is earmarked, they ease out of the way to make space for the person that they have earmarked. Of course, it is illegal. But that is what our suspicion is,” the union leader said.  

He said that while the lawsuit is a Public Service Union matter, the union is not the direct claimant, adding that McDonald has been affected by the appointments. 

The PSC appointed Charles and Williams-Huggins in July 2023 amidst objection by the parliamentary opposition and the PSU.

Among other things, Opposition Leader Godwin Friday noted that Charles had been a senator for the ruling Unity Labour Party for the five years ended November 2020 and had run for the party in that general election as she had done in 2015.

The opposition leader further said Charles had not ceased her partisan political activism on behalf of the ULP on social media.

The New Democratic Party, of which Friday is leader, as well as the Public Service Union had criticised the appointment, with the union saying it has seen no evidence that the post was not advertised, as required by law.

On Thursday, Boucher told the media that the PSU, through its lawyers and the claimant, is asking the court to declare that is the PSC acted unfairly and unlawfully by appointing Alexander-Charles and Williams-Huggins rather than McDonald. 

They are further asking the court to declare that the PSC’s decision to appoint Charles and Williams-Huggins to their respective positions violates the principles of selection for appointment and promotion, and in particular regulation 19 of the PSC regulation, or, alternatively, that the PSC’s decision failed to consider the relevant factors. 

The litigant is also the court to declare that the PSC failed and or refused to advertise the post of the Clerk of the House of Assembly, thereby violating regulation 18 of the PSC regulations and the principle of transparency.

The High Court is being asked to quash the PSC’s decision to appoint Charles and Williams-Huggins to their respective positions.

Boucher noted that in 2017, the union successfully sued the PSC, challenging the manner in which it was making appointments. 

“We therefore found it necessary to continue litigation against the Public Service Commission. The Public Service Union is committed that anytime an appointment is made in the public service, and the PSU finds that it is made contrary to the regulations, we will challenge once the affected or aggrieved member comes forward,” Boucher said. 

He said that in the case awaiting determination, “if you were to do research, you will discover that none of those posts were advertised. 

“And there are persons within the public service, even within that particular department, who are qualified. The claimant is qualified, has acted in that position on numerous occasions and was never given consideration.

“So, we have to view that the procedure used to appoint those persons is flawed and illegal. And one only has to look at the judgment that was handed down in 2019…” Boucher said.

In that case, the union successfully argued that the PSC had failed to comply with the regulations governing promotion in the public service.

“The court, in that matter, found that regulations 18, advertisement of vacancies, mandates that all vacancies within the public service must be advertised. The learned judge ruled that regulations 18(1) imposes a sacred duty on the Public Service Commission to ensure that all vacancies within the public service are advertised either by circular or official gazette,” Boucher noted.

He noted that the regulations provide that any public officer may apply to be appointed to a vacant post. 

The union leader pointed out that the court held then that before filling a post by external options, the PSC must consider whether there is a suitable candidate within the service.

Further, in arriving at such determination, the PSC must take into account the qualifications, experience and merit that the post holder is required to possess. 

“In that case, the court ruled that the Public Service Commission failed to comply with regulation 18,19, 20 and 27 of the Public Service regulation. Regulation 18 addresses advertisement of vacancies, regulation 19 addresses principle of selection, regulation 20 seniority lists, and 27 addresses confidential reports to assist the Public Service Commission.”

Boucher noted that the court also ruled in the 2017 case that the PSC had failed to observe principles of fairness, transparency and objectivity in exercising its functions. 

“The current case that we have in the court is indicative of our view that the Public Service Commission continues to violate the public service regulations as it relates to promotions. 

Boucher also said that the union is considering a lawsuit against the PSC regarding the filling of the post of fisheries officer in the Minister of Agriculture. 

He said the PSC filled the post from outside the service and did not advertise it despite a letter from the union last April reminding the PSC of the correct procedure and the ruling of the court.

“That matter is before our lawyers with the intention that we will be challenging that appointment also,” Boucher said.