Sacked Supervisor of Elections, Judy Benoit is taking Governor-General Dr. Cecile La Grenade to court over the manner in which she was dismissed from the post.
Benoit has retained the services of the legal firm, Ciboney Chambers, headed by attorney-at-law, Ruggles Ferguson to seek a judicial review of the controversial decision that was arrived at by the island’s first female Head of State.
THE NEW TODAY has obtained copies of the documents filed in the high court by Ciboney Chambers on behalf of the former Supervisor of Elections.
“We have filed an application seeking the court’s leave to file Judicial Review proceedings against the Governor General. The rules of court require that one first has to seek the court’s leave before Judicial Review proceedings can be filed”, an official of the law firm confirmed to NEW TODAY.
“The Applicant seeks to have the court declare that the decision of the Governor General to dismiss her was unreasonable, irrational, procedurally improper and in breach of the principles of natural justice. She also seeks to have the court quash the decision of the Governor-General to dismiss her”, he added.
In the court documents seen by this newspaper, Benoit disclosed her intention to file a constitutional motion seeking certain declarations concerning the independence of the office of the Supervisor of Elections as established by the Grenada Constitution, which mandates that her office be subject to the direction or control of no one, including the Cabinet.
She is contending that certain decisions of Cabinet regarding the Parliamentary Elections Office, which Cabinet sought to have implemented just prior to her dismissal, were taken without due regard for the independence of the Office of Supervisor of Elections and in contravention of the constitution.
Benoit also seeking damages from the State for wrongful dismissal
The dismissal of Benoit was the first major action taken by Dame Cecile who was appointed to the post in the aftermath of the victory at the polls on February 19 by the New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell.
Her removal from the post came against the backdrop of moves being made by the Mitchell government to integrate a regional project with the Electoral Office which Benoit feared could compromise the integrity of the island’s electoral process.
Both the complainant (Benoit) and the Defendant (Dame Cecile) are from the St. Paul’s area in the St. George South-east constituency.
Following is the full text of the affidavit filed by Benoit in defense of her actions against the Governor-General:
I, JUDY BENOIT, Public Servant, of Mt.Airy in St.Paul’s in the parish St. George and State of Grenada, MAKE OATH and SAY as follows:-
1. I am the Applicant herein. I make this affidavit in support of my application for leave to file a claim for Judicial Review of the decision of the First Respondent as amplified herein.
2. Insofar as the contents of this affidavit are within my personal knowledge they are true and in so far as they are not within my personal knowledge they are true to the best of myinformation and beliefs.
3. On the 30th day of September 2009 I was appointed Supervisor of Elections by the then Governor General Sir Carlyle Glean pursuant to his powers under section 35 of the Constitution of Grenada.
4. In exercise of my powers as Supervisor of Elections and pursuant to the Act No. 26 of 2011, in 2012 I set up a new system of registration of voters. This new system involved the issuance of new Identification Cards for Registered persons. The system was a fully computerized one with many security features that made it difficult for fraudulent registrations and issuance of ID cards.
5. The Organization of American States (OAS) through its Department for Electoral Cooperation and Observation did an evaluation of the system in February 2012 and was high in praise for the integrity of the new system. In the report of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission following the February 19th Elections, the OAS noted at pages 2-3
that: – The new system was put in place within a period of 13 months prior to the February 19th General Election. Although the implementation of an entirely new voter registration system in a short timeframe before the General Election caused some concerns, these were dissipated by the government’s decision to request an independent assessment conducted by a technical team from the OAS Department for Electoral Cooperation and Observation. This independent assessment attested for “high levels of accuracy and reliability of the new voter’s registration database.”
The Mission took note that some of the main issues of concern surrounding the implementation of the new voter registration system had to do with the disfranchisement of voters left out of the new voters’ list and the delay in the issuance of new voter identification cards by the Parliamentary Elections Office.
However, days prior to the General Election, the Mission was informed by members of civil society organizations, political parties and representatives of the private sector that they were, in general, satisfied with the preparations of the election and recognized that the Parliamentary Elections Office had done a commendable job in informing citizens about the voting requirements emphasizing that people who had registered and did not receive their new voter identification card by the day of the election would still be allowed to vote with other forms of identification documents.
A true copy of the report of the OAS referred to herein is annexed hereto as JBl.
6. Elections were held under the new voter registration system on 19th February 2013.
Those elections were monitored by the OAS, Commonwealth, CARlCOM and a Local Civil Society Organisation.
7. All observers were high in praise for the manner in which the voter registration system functioned. In its report on the elections the CARICOM Observer mission at page 1-2 of its report stated, “The CARl COM Electoral Observer Mission was of the view that the assessment is that the preparations for the conduct of the Poll were exceptional and the workers were properly trained which allowed them to execute their duties in a professional, confident and impartial manner.” A true copy of the CARICOM Observer Mission Report is annexed hereto as JB 2.
8. Under the new registration system, the then opposition, now ruling, party won the elections sweeping all 15 seats.
9. On the 29th day of August 2013 I received a memorandum dated 28th August 2013 and signed by Ms. Lana McPhail, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communications, Works, Physical Development, Public Utilities, ICT and Community Development informing me that Cabinet had taken certain decisions regarding the functioning of Electoral Offices. A true copy of the said letter from the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Communications, Works, Physical Development, Public Utilities, ICT and Community Development is annexed hereto and marked JB 3.
10. By memorandum dated 30th August 2013, I responded to the memorandum of the Permanent Secretary expressing my concerns about possible erosion of the independence of the Office of Supervisor of Elections and raising several issues regarding the potential impact of the directive from Cabinet. The said memorandum was copied to the Attorney General. A true copy of the said memorandum dated 30th August 2013 is annexed hereto as Exhibit JB 4.
11. On Thursday 26th September, 2013 I received a message VIa email from Mrs. Ada Holder, Assistant Supervisor of Elections, that Her Excellency the Governor General would like to meet with me on Friday 27th September at 11:30am. The meeting was subsequently rescheduled for Monday 30th September at 10:00 am.
12. On Monday 30th September, 2013 I arrived at the Office of the Governor General at exactly fifteen minutes to ten (9:45am). I was placed in a waiting room where I remained for just over 45 minutes awaiting Her Excellency.
13. When Her Excellency finally joined me in the waiting room she said, “Miss Benoit, I called you as head of the Electoral Office to hold a discussion with you because I had two complaints”. I was taken aback as I was not aware of any problems with anyone.
14. At this point, Mr. Aaron Francois, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health and Social Security joined Her Excellency and me at her request.
15. Immediately thereafter, Her Excellency proceeded, saying: “One has to do with Mrs. Glynis Roberts and a mail she was to receive and did not receive. The other one has to do with am, ah, ah, well they tell me, about this EGRIP project. It is an OEeS project and we have the money for it from World Bank and if we don’t do it soon we going to lose the money. So I am dismissing you with immediate effect.”
16. At that point Her Excellency handed me an envelope containing a letter of dismissal which I read in her presence. A true copy of the said letter of dismissal is annexed hereto and’ marked JD 5.
17. I immediately opened the envelope and began reading the letter. While I was still reading the letter, Her Excellency turned to Mr. Francois and said to him:”So Mr. Francois I am appointing you to act as Supervisor until we find somebody permanent and I would expect the proper handing over.”
18. As Her Excellency was continuing the discussion with Mr. Francois and I was not included, I enquired of her whether she was through with me and whether I could take my leave. She said yes and opened the door. I thanked her and left.
20. 1 verily believe that my actions in response to the directives from Cabinet were all justifiable in the circumstances and were designed to protect the integrity of the office of Supervisor of Elections and to uphold the letter and spirit of the constitution. In all the circumstances I was unjustifiably dismissed and I verily believe that the First Respondent acted unreasonably, irrationally, improper procedurally and against the principles of natural justice.
21. When called to the hereinbefore referred to meeting with Her Excellency I was not informed of the nature and purpose of the same. I was never informed in advance of any allegations made against me so as to give me an adequate and reasonable opportunity to respond. Even when the First Respondent raised the issues with me for the first time, she did not elaborate, or properly define the complaint. Neither did she give me any opportunity to respond to the complaint. I was simply dismissed summarily.
22. I state all of the foregoing facts verily believing them to be true and for no improper purpose.