How ironic is it that the Equal Opportunity Tribunal (EOT) and its Chairman, former PNM Senator Donna Prowell-Raphael
today stands accused of practising open discrimination against a differently-abled citizen!
by Capil Bissoon
The Equal Opportunity Tribunal (EOT) and its Chairman, former PNM Senator Donna Prowell-Raphael are now the defendants in a civil lawsuit brought by a differently-abled citizen, Attorney-at-Law Veera Bhajan who was appointed by H.E. The President as a Lay Assessor to the EOT.
As the case continues in the High Court, the evidence now being tendered is that Prowell-Raphael actually wrote the President asking her to withdraw Bhajan’s appointment because of her disability!
If it was some other organization and not the EOT, Bhajan would have been able to petition the EOT for relief since she was being discriminated against because of her disability; but in this instance, the very organization that has the exclusive jurisdiction to adjudicate certain defined claims of discrimination, victimization and offensive behaviour initiated under the Equal Opportunity Act (EOA), whose mandate is to work towards the elimination of discrimination and the promotion of equality and good relations between persons of different statuses is the one being sued.
How ironic that the EOT today stands accused of practising open discrimination against a differently-abled citizen!
It is peculiarly clear that the EOT Chair, appointed by the President on the advice of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission is not only defying the decision of President who appointed Bhajan but openly challenging the constitutional duties and responsibilities of the President.
What is happening here is indeed a source of concern with regards to the governance and independence of the EOT. The Office of the President has unfortunately been, once again, brought into disrepute. Prowell-Raphael was appointed by the President on the advice of the JLSC headed by Chief Justice Ivor Archie; why hasn’t Archie stepped in and stop this egregious behaviour of the EOT’s Chair in her relentless zeal not to have Bhajan take up her appointment?
Even more disturbing is the role and function of the Office of the Attorney General.
The Attorney General is responsible for providing legal services to the Government and its various agencies and Bhajan has included the AG as a defendant in this court challenge.
The Lead Attorney for the AG’s Office has publicly stated that Prowell-Raphael’s conduct was reprehensible and offensive and that the appointment, made by the highest holder in the country must be respected and not ignored. The AG’s representative has already signalled that if Bhajan’s case is successful, it will be the Office of the Attorney General (meaning taxpayers) who will have to pay.
The EOT and Prowell-Raphael have already failed in their attempt to have the Appeal Court reverse a preliminary decision by a High Court Judge in a judicial review claim.
The question really is who is Equal Opportunity Tribunal and its Chairman, former PNM Senator Donna Prowell-Raphael are accountable to? Clearly it seems not to be the President or the Chief Justice and in this matter of litigation involving the purse of the taxpayers, the Attorney General.
Is Prowell-Raphael a law onto herself?
She has retained a battery of lawyers, headed by a Senior Counsel, to respond to Bhajan’s claim.
Assuming but not accepting that the court rules in favor of Bhajan, what quantum of damages will the EOT be liable for? And either way, what will be the cost of this expensive litigation to the taxpayer?
Just how much is the financial exposure that Prowell-Raphael has set up the taxpayer for?