Jun 26, 2022 News
– Board votes for return of money
By Kiana Wilburg
Kaieteur News – Registrar of the Deeds and Commercial Registries Authority (DCRA), Ms. Azeena Baksh and her Deputy, Zanna Frank have been ordered by the Board of DCRA to return gratuity in excess of $9M they received last year since such benefits are only reserved for employees on contract. The Board categorically stated that both parties are on the pensionable establishment and should not have received the money in the first place.
The matter was one that led to a robust debate amongst board members on April 8, 2022.
Those present were: Jamela Ali, SC – Chairperson, Ms. Azeena Baksh, Mr. Reza Manraj, Mr. Surrendra Khayyam, Ms. Fiona Hamilton, Mr. Donovan Rangiah, Mr. Arudranauth Mohandas Gossai, Mr. Charles MacGarrel, Mr. Tony Krishna, and Mr. Donald Dyal. Also present was Ms. Rianna Bowman – Board Secretary.
According to documents seen by this newspaper, the Chair confirmed at the meeting that she received correspondence from the Deputy Registrar of Deeds indicating that she wishes to remain on the pensionable establishment.
Attorney-at-Law, Mr. Gossai at this point referred to the discussions at the first Board Meeting in January 2022 on persons for whom there is no contract of employment. He said this discussion and the correspondence received by the Chair confirmed that Baksh and Frank wish to remain permanent employees.
With that pellucid understanding of the women’s position, Mr. Gossai then referenced his concerns raised at the January meeting on the Registrar and Deputy Registrar of Deeds being paid gratuities in December 2021. The lawyer said he never voted in favour of this. He explicitly stated that gratuities are payable to persons not on the pensionable establishment, and now given the Registrar and Deputy Registrars’ decision to remain on the pensionable establishment, they are not entitled to gratuities, as such, the gratuities paid to both Officers in December 2021 should be returned to the DCRA.
The Chair then asked the Registrar to respond to Mr. Gossai. Ms. Baksh in her defence said that the correspondence sent by the former Chair to the Finance and Human Resource Departments included instructions for the payment of gratuity and the other benefits on the basis of a Board decision.
She said that, at the January Board meeting, when discussion on the matter of gratuity payment to the Registrar and Deputy Registrar of Deeds was had, the Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, SC, “put the matter to rest” so beyond this, she said she could not comment as she did not believe that it is within her remit to do so. She further said that she will recuse herself from any further discussion on the matter as anything said by her may be biased.
Baksh, however, reminded that the decision to pay the gratuity was not done in isolation as all documents were submitted to the Ministry of Finance and approval to pay also came from that ministry.
With reference to the January Board meeting again, Ms. Baksh also reminded that on the discussions relating to her and her deputy’s gratuity payment it was said that the decision on whether to remain on the establishment was not theirs to make but rather it should be a Judicial Service Commission (JSC) decision. She said it was decided that going forward they would remain on the establishment until the JSC is constituted, and when a decision is made at that level any gratuities owing will be paid. She said that this was also the advice given by Justice Yonette Cummings- Edwards, Chancellor of the Judiciary who is also the Chair of the JSC.
Finally, Ms. Baksh reminded of a previous court case she had on this very issue of payment of gratuity back in 2020 where the Court did rule that the absence of a contract did not mean that there was no contractual agreement.
Despite her arguments, Mr. Gossai contended at this point he is an attorney of 18 years standing and at no time did he vote for the payment of gratuity. He said that given his years in the profession he does not believe that he would make such a fundamental error to agree to pay a person who is not legally entitled to a payment when it is not due to that person. Further, he said that his position has been and will remain that whatever benefits the officers were legally entitled to, should have been paid but not gratuity.
Importantly, the Chair made it clear she has not seen the correspondence from the former Chair to the Finance and HR Departments, instructing for the gratuity to be paid. The Chair also said she has not seen any correspondence with regard to the AG having put the matter to rest in January. The Chair said too that she did not agree with the statement that the matter was put to rest as in fact, the meeting was adjourned with the understanding that officers would deliberate on whether they would remain on the establishment or be placed on contract.
Now having correspondence from both officers who have opted to remain on the pensionable establishment, the Chair said it is a simple issue of law. The Chair said, “If you are not on a contract you cannot be paid contract gratuity.” As such, she said she believes that the Board had to deal with a payment made under a contract when there was no contract.
Mr. Dyal concurred with the Chair’s estimation on gratuity entitlements. He said, however, that he could not comment on the payments made in December as he is not in possession of the minutes of the Board meeting where the decision was made nor the correspondence from the previous Chair instructing the payment.
Mr. Khayyam said he sat on the last Board and to his recollection, after a very lengthy meeting, it was decided that all benefits due to Ms. Baksh should be awarded. He said further that he remembers the decision made was to pay all benefits up to that period for which it was paid (October 2021) and going forward the Registrar and Deputy would need to ‘sort themselves out’ on whether they would be pensionable or contract employees.
The Chair told Mr. Khayyam that his recollection is correct, but the decision should never have been made because Ms. Baksh nor her Deputy were never on a contract, and they cannot decide to remain on the pensionable establishment and be the recipients of contract gratuity.
She said too that the Board minutes of that meeting do not reflect any specific mention on the payment of gratuity, and since they were not on a contract, they should return the money.
A vote was then taken on whether Ms. Baksh and Ms. Frank (the Registrar and Deputy Registrar of Deeds) should return the monies they received as contract gratuity payments in December 2021.
(Please see chart attached.) All except one voted for the money to be refunded.
Given the majority vote, Mr. Krishna said that they are to be made aware of the sum involved and the officers can be allowed to repay same over a specified period.
Baksh in 2020 was found guilty by City Magistrate, Leron Daly, for obtaining over $4.5M from the State by false pretence. She was spared jail time but ordered to reimburse the State $4,534,480.
She had, however, expressed her dissatisfaction with the ruling and had turned to the Appeal Court asking that the decision of Magistrate Daly, “be wholly reversed, set aside and/or discharged.”
The Appellate Court overturned the conviction and sentencing.
According to the particulars of the charge, Baksh, while being a member of the JSC between May 1, 2014 and January 31, 2017, with intent to defraud, caused or procured valuable securities to the sum of $4,534,480 to be delivered to her Bank of Nova Scotia Account #281469; or to her own use and benefit by falsely pretending that she was a contracted employee of the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority.
The allegations outlined that Baksh did this knowing that she was a pensionable employee, having been appointed by the JSC. The claim further outlined that the Registrar unlawfully paid herself a higher salary than was approved by the JSC for the stated period between 2014 and 2017.
Aug 16, 2022Jeremiah Scott bagged six wickets for 27 runs from seven overs to hand One Movement CC a 135-run win over Rebels when the teams collided in a 35-over fixture on Saturday at LBI. One Movement CC...
Aug 16, 2022
Aug 16, 2022
Aug 16, 2022
Aug 16, 2022
Aug 16, 2022
By Sir Ronald Sanders Kaieteur News – So far in this attempt to answer the question, “Has CARICOM reached its limits... more
Freedom of speech is our core value at Kaieteur News. If the letter/e-mail you sent was not published, and you believe that its contents were not libellous, let us know, please contact us by phone or email.
Feel free to send us your comments and/or criticisms.
Contact: 624-6456; 225-8452; 225-8458; 225-8463; 225-8465; 225-8473 or 225-8491.
Or by Email: [email protected] / [email protected]