Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Court quashes decision to withhold interdicted officer's salary

Published:Friday | May 26, 2017 | 5:00 AMMcPherse Thompson

A Supreme Court judge is recommending that lawmakers revisit public service regulations to ensure government employees are given a hearing before any decision on adjustments to their salary while on suspension.

Justice Kirk Anderson made the recommendation while ruling in favour of Faith Webster, who has been on suspension for three years at half-pay.

The judge said the regulations should be amended to clearly state that a hearing be held before determining what portion of a public officer's salary should be withheld while awaiting disciplinary proceedings.

Currently, he said, the regulations do not provide for such hearing either before or after the Public Service Commission makes a recommendation to the governor general that a public officer be interdicted.

In the meantime, Justice Anderson said, in the interest of fairness, it is always open to the court to rectify the legislature's omission as he quashed the decision of the Public Service Commission (PSC) to withhold 50 per cent of the salary of interdicted executive director of the Bureau of Women's Affair, Faith Webster, who is facing disciplinary action that could result in her dismissal.

Webster should be afforded a hearing, and disciplinary proceedings against her be dealt with promptly thereafter, the judge ruled.

Webster was interdicted by permanent secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister, Onika Miller Webster, on February 10, 2014, after an audit of the Women's Bureau highlighted weaknesses in the operations of the agency. She had been receiving half her pay since June of that year.

In hearings before the Supreme Court, Webster's attorney, Douglas Leys, QC, argued that the charges against her relate to matters of inefficiency and do not contain any allegation of dishonesty, fraud or misappropriation of public funds or property to warrant an interdiction at half her salary.

Justice Anderson ruled that if withholding 50 per cent of Webster's salary constitutes a penalty, a decision to impose it could only properly be made after she had been afforded a fair hearing.

"Anyone who is interdicted based upon disciplinary or criminal proceedings being under way in respect of him or her as the alleged wrongdoer is always to be presumed innocent, unless and/or until it has been proven to the requisite standard otherwise," the judge said.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com