A HIGH COURT judge has dismissed the challenge of social and political activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj over a decision by Finance Minister Colm Imbert to appoint businessman Patrick Ferreira as chairman of the National Insurance Board (NIB).
The decision was delivered on Monday by Justice Jacqueline Wilson.
A press release from the ministry said Ferreira will continue to act as chairman of NIB until the expiration of his term of office.
In April, Balgobin-Maharaj filed a judicial review application which sought a declaration that
Ferreira’s appointment was illegal. Balgobin-Maharaj also wanted the court to quash the appointment.
It was Balgobin-Maharaj’s contention that Ferreira, because of his past association with business and government, could not be considered an individual defined under the National Insurance Act and should not be chairman of the NIB.
Balgobin-Maharaj was represented by a team of attorneys including Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Kent Samlal, Dr Che Dindial, Natasha Bisram and Vishaal Siewsaran.
Ferreira was first appointed a government-nominated director of the NIB on November 25, 2017. It also said on January 20, 2022, there was a notice of Ferreira’s appointment as a government-appointed director and chairman.
The lawsuit said Balgobin-Maharaj became aware of Ferreira’s appointment from newspaper reports that month and in February, when Opposition Senator Wade Mark raised the issue in the Senate, calling on the Government to revoke it.
In response to Mark, Imbert said successive governments have appointed “eminent citizens of TT to serve as directors and chairmen of the board of NIB.”
He said they were drawn from business, labour and government sectors.
“When one looks at the policy and the practice, the chairman is someone who is supposed to act independently of Government, labour and business.”
The application said Balgobin-Maharaj was concerned about the appointment and wanted to ensure it was lawful, valid and complied with the National Insurance Act, which sets out who is to be appointed to the board. In the case of the appointment of a chairman, that person has to be, in the opinion of the minister, independent of the Government, business and labour.
“He is of the view that the appointment is contrary to law because Mr Ferreira had served as a director on the NIBTT’s board previously during the period November, 25, 2017-January, 20, 2022 as a government-nominated director and hence cannot be said to be a person who ‘is independent of the government, business and labour’ within the meaning and intent of section 3 (2) (d) (of the act). He is therefore not eligible or fit to hold the office of chairman,” the application said.
The lawsuit contended that it was imperative, given the chairman’s roles, functions and duties, that the office-holder must be an “independent person” who has had no connection or relationship with any of the specific interest groups which nominate directors to the NIB board.
According to the act, Government nominates three members; three are nominated by associations most representative of business; and three by associations most representative of labour. The two other members are the chairman and the executive director who serves as an ex officio member.
Balgobin-Maharaj’s application pointed to Ferreira’s other appointments as director of NIPDEC, which ended in March; NGL Ltd (a subsidiary of the National Gas Company) which took effect in July 2020; and his previous appointment as a director of the Deposit Insurance Corporation of the Central Bank from 2002-2008.
The claim maintained because of Ferreira’s “high-level position” in the Furness Group, he could not be eligible to be considered for appointment as chairman of the NIB, as he was “not a person who can be described as someone who is ‘independent of the government, business and labour.’”
“…He, therefore, serves the interests of both the government and/or business and cannot properly and lawfully be appointed to serve as chairman of the NIBTT.
However, in his defence, Imbert pointed out that the act made it clear that while the NIB board “shall” act in accordance with the general policy directions of the Government, given by the minister, when exercising and performing its functions, powers and duties, the bard was subject to the control or direction of “no other person or authority.”
It was also Imbert’s defence that eight previous chairmen of the NIB had “significant business interests,” including two appointments by the former People’s Partnership administration. They were Edward Bayley in 1996 while a director of Maritime Life (Caribbean) Ltd and executive director and Adrian Bharath in 2013 who was a director of Trinre and managing director of a company involved in corporate finance and financial consultancy.
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