Controversy still hovers over half a decade after Security Officer Vescott Jones of Marigot was reportedly fired for allowing Leader of the United Workers Party, Lenox Linton, who was leaving Dominica, to dispose of a quantity of cooked crab backs at the Douglas Charles Airport since he did not have the required permit to travel with them.
The incident occurred on October 19, 2014 but blew up in the local media in December that year when Linton revealed that the security officer was fired as a result of the episode.
The UWP leader had labelled the matter as an example of political victimization against people from Marigot but Dominica Air and Seaport Authority (DASPA) Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Benoit Bardouille, had said that Jones failed to follow the standard procedures which security officers operate under, hence his employment was terminated.
As it stands, an industrial tribunal hearing is still ongoing in which Jones, through his lawyer, Gildon Richards, is appealing Bardouille’s decision, claiming unfair dismissal.
According to Richards, who spoke to Dominica News Online (DNO), so far, all witnesses except Bardouille have testified but the case has been at a standstill since the tribunal was reconstituted because its term expired and a secretary has not been appointed.
“We’ve repeatedly requested information with respect to the status of the tribunal [as to] whether the chairman was going to be reappointed. We were eventually told that the chairman had been reappointed and everything is getting settled,” Richards said. “We repeatedly returned to the labour division enquiring why we have not started [and] the repeated response we got was ‘we don’t have a secretary to the tribunal appointed.’ The secretary to the tribunal must be appointed by the minister, that’s Mr. [Rayburn] Blackmoore,”
He further stated, “In all of the public service, we are being told [that] nobody can be found to record… the testimony of Mr. Bardouille to the tribunal.”
Richards said that after Bardouille’s testimony, the next step would be to await a decision.
“So Mr. Bardouille is the only person right now, who must make himself available to the tribunal and the minister is the person that must move the tribunal to perform its functions according to law by appointing a secretary to the tribunal,” he said.
“I don’t believe the public service would fall on its face if for three hours, a secretary was appointed to complete the witness testimony at least for Mr. Bardouille and for another few days to transcribe that testimony or any testimony for the tribunal to proceed into doing its work. Just think of the public service, the largest employer in Dominica of clerical services and you’re getting an explanation, ‘we cannot find a secretary’,” Richards added.
He was adamant that his client did not breach the law and claims that Jones was vindictively dismissed. He said according to law, the basic function of airport security is to ensure that they prevent dangerous materials from getting onto aircrafts.
“The statute does not impose upon them a duty to seize things that do not come within the purview of what they have been put there to do,” Richards noted. “First of all, there is no ban on the exportation of food.”
Meanwhile, when contacted by DNO for comment, Minister Blackmoore said he was unable to speak on matters relating to the tribunal since the hearing is still ongoing.
The Forestry Wildlife and Parks Division had released a statement some days after the incident in which it distanced itself from having any involvement in the situation as it developed on October 19, 2014.
The statement said that officers of the division heard the news like every other individual after it was carried in the local media on Monday, October 20, 2014, and the ensuing days.
“The allegation that the Division turned a blind eye on the instant matter is rather unfortunate,” the division stated, noting that it was concerned that “if the situation actually developed as is reported in the local media and talk-shows, then the existing protocol for dealing with such matters was not followed.”
In its statement, the Forestry and Wildlife Division reminded the public that the “exportation or attempt to export wildlife from the country without a valid export permit is a violation of the Forestry and Wildlife Act, Chapter 60:02 of the Revised Laws of Dominica.” They also noted that to claim ignorance of the law, which has been in force since 1976, is no defense.
Speaking to media recently, Jones described his life after the dismissal as hard and painful.
His lawyer also revealed that Jones has not had any full-time employment in six years and has been making a living out of meagre means. His mother, an amputee whose health deteriorated due to the incident, is totally dependent on Jones for sustenance, Richards said.
“She has lost some of her health because of that, constantly grieving about the situation,” the lawyer added.