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Customs Officers Win First Round in Legal Challenge

Supreme Court Justice Genevieve Chabot ruled in favor of customs officers Dave Vaccaro and Rackel Waight in a claim brought against the Public Services Commission. In January 2020 and July 2020, the Public Services Commission invited applications from qualified candidates for the post of Assistant Comptroller of Customs and Excise. Both Applicants applied for the post. Neither were promoted. Vaccaro and Waight filed an application seeking judicial review of the Commission’s decision to promote individuals who they claim were not qualified or were less qualified than them. The customs officers claim the Commission acted unreasonably, unfairly, ultra vires, without jurisdiction, and abdicated its duties under the Constitution of Belize in making this decision. Representing Vaccaro is attorney William Lindo Junior who explained more. 

William Lindo Junior, Attorney for Dave Vaccaro: “On the basis of supposed brain drain customs department saw it fit to ask the Public Service Commission to please promote these three individuals without advertising the post at all just saying look we want these three people. Now my client Mr.Vaccaro he’s a senior member in the Belize Public Service, he’s been in customs for over twenty years. He applied for the promotion in February well within time, he attended the interview, now what we learned later is that in July of 2021 a decision was made to promote six individuals and then in August another three individuals promote right ? So that’s how you get the promotion of the nine individuals. However neither Mr.Vacaro or the applicant in claim 731 Ms.Raquel Waight neither of them received any notification from the Public Service Commission to say look your bid for promotion was unsuccessful we have chosen these other people.”

Justice Chabot granted leave to apply for Judicial Review and shall file, within 14 days of the date of this decision, one joint Application for Judicial Review. As Lindo Jr explained there is a duty on the part of the Commission to cooperate and disclose the relevant facts and the reasoning behind the decisions challenged in judicial review proceedings.

William Lindo Junior, Attorney for Dave Vaccaro: “What the evidence suggests at this point is that there was a wholesale disregard for the regulation and the circulars and our position is quite simply going back to the turn of the thirteenth century where heads of state got together and said look King John you might be the king but when Magna Carter was passed you’re the king but you’re also subject to laws and the same goes for the Public Services Commission. The judge also granted a specific order against the Public Service Commission saying look furnish to the applicants or their attorneys at law copies of all the records, all the documents you considered, the minutes and the transcripts of any hearings or meetings that you did and that’s in an aim to ensure that the process was transparent, the process was fair, that it is there to assist the court to ensure by the process of judicial review that the rule of law is upheld and everyone is treated fairly and we don’t have a situation of animal farm where some of us are more equal than others. And another fundamental finding in this decision si that it is not all decisions of the Public Service Commission that are reviewable by the Belize Advisory Council. The judge found that the Belize Advisory Council has a limited jurisdiction under the constitution and their jurisdiction is limited to appeals and disciplinary cases and this is the first time in Belize that this point has actually been decided.”

The matter will now proceed to full trial and according to Lindo Jr. what the evidence is showing now is political interference in the appointments of the nine persons. 

William Lindo Junior, Attorney for Dave Vaccaro: “Public Service Commission, the Security Services Commission and the like and the Judicial and Legal Service Commission they’re creatures of the constitution and established specifically for the purpose to insulate the decisions to appoint, promote and discipline public officers from the influence of any minister of government or any member of the House. In other words it’s trying to preserve the separation of powers saying that look, you’re the state, you are the executive, you have your function. Your function is to run the day to day business of the country but you should not interfere with the appointment, promotion or discipline of public officers, that’s something that is vested specifically with the Public Service Commission not with you Mr.Minister. All the Ministry of Public Service does is act as a secretariat to receive correspondence kind of like a mailroom as it were that’s all but those decisions ought to be decisions of the constitution and nobody else. The evidence that we have before the court right now suggests that there was some form of interference with the Public Service Commission and that had prevailed upon them in their decision to appoint those nine individuals but like I said that’s something that will be decided by the court at a later stage.”