Industrial Court President Deborah Thomas-Felix has claimed that her organisation has been severely hampered by budgetary cuts over the past year.
Presenting her annual speech at the opening of the 2019/2020 Law Term at the court’s headquarters in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning, Thomas-Felix stated that the court only received $40 million in recurrent expenditure despite requesting $64 million.
Of the money received, $26 million represented salaries with the remainder going towards goods and services including security costs and utilities.
“Further, to exacerbate an already difficult situation the release of these funds has been inconsistent and inadequate. There were times when there was no release of funds with respect to goods and services for months at a time,” Thomas-Felix said.
She said as a result of the deficit, the court had to forgo its stakeholder engagement events, training for staff and court hearings in Tobago.
“This situation has been ongoing for the past few years and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the court to meet its financial and service obligations and to have basic supplies such as ink and paper,” Thomas-Felix said.
Thomas-Felix stated that funding issues also affected the court’s ability to fill 20 vacancies for court reporters, which have been outstanding for some time. She claimed that the vacancies directly affected the court’s efficiency.
“This year a total of 399 judgements were reserved for decision by the court. Of these reserved judgements, 214 remain outstanding due to the fact that notes cannot be prepared and given to judges for their decisions and the backlog which was cleared in 2014 has returned,” Thomas-Felix said.
In a brief interview after the ceremony, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said that the financial constraints were not unique to the Industrial Court.
“Every ministry in the budgeting exercise goes through the performance where you request 100 and get 40 or 30...That is something every institution has managed,” Al-Rawi said, as he claimed that it was directly related to reductions in the State’s estimated revenue.
Al-Rawi also sought to address the financial issues with recruiting court reporters and introducing online services for the court.
“I am pleased to say the issues raised by the Honourable President are all easy to address and are capable of an immediate solution,” Al-Rawi said.
In terms of the court reporters, Al-Rawi said that the Judiciary had a similar problem which was solved by training 300 employees in voice recognition software. The training cost $500,000 and was completed in three months.
Al-Rawi also claimed that the Judiciary had developed a series of successful e-services including a case management system, which Chief Justice Ivor Archie has agreed to share with the Industrial Court.
- by Derek Achong. Photo by Nicole Drayton