Judge: Ministry negligent for open manhole

The Min­istry of Works and Trans­port has been found neg­li­gent in an in­ci­dent where a pre-school teacher fell in­to an open man­hole in Fe­lic­i­ty in 2015.

De­liv­er­ing an oral judge­ment af­ter a short tri­al at the Hall of Jus­tice in Port-of-Spain yes­ter­day, High Court Judge Frank Seep­er­sad ruled that the min­istry was re­spon­si­ble for the in­com­plete drain al­though it was con­struct­ed by the Es­tate Man­age­ment and Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Com­pa­ny (EM­BD), with­out its ap­proval.

In the claim be­fore Seep­er­sad, Su­ru­j­dai Ram­per­sad sued the min­istry and the Ch­agua­nas Bor­ough Cor­po­ra­tion af­ter she fell in­to the hole while walk­ing along the Ch­agua­nas Main Road near to Ca­can­dee Road on March 11, 2015.

While there was no dis­pute over whether Ram­per­sad fell in­to the hole, both par­ties claimed that Ram­per­sad was neg­li­gent when tra­vers­ing the road­way at night.

The cor­po­ra­tion and the Min­istry were al­so con­test­ing where Ram­per­sad fell as the Min­istry is vest­ed with the statu­to­ry re­spon­si­bil­i­ty of main­tain­ing the Ch­agua­nas Main Road, while the cor­po­ra­tion has con­trol over Ca­can­dee Road.

In analysing the ev­i­dence, Seep­er­sad ruled that he be­lieved Ram­per­sad and her hus­band Ma­hadeo, whom both claimed that the in­ci­dent oc­curred along the Ch­agua­nas Main Road. He al­so stat­ed that their claims, that the hole was not marked with cau­tion signs and that it was dif­fi­cult to see at night due to a lack of street lights in the area, were plau­si­ble.

Seep­er­sad al­so not­ed that the cor­po­ra­tion's of­fi­cials, who cov­ered the hole af­ter the in­ci­dent, had raised the is­sue with EM­BD's work in the area. He al­so point­ed out that the min­istry's civ­il en­gi­neer Ju­lia Joseph ad­mit­ted to be­ing aware of the EM­BD's work while be­ing cross-ex­am­ined by Ram­per­sad's lawyer.

How­ev­er, Joseph could not give ex­pert ad­vice on the work as it was not con­duct­ed by her em­ploy­er and was done be­fore she worked in the Ch­agua­nas area.

While Seep­er­sad or­dered com­pen­sa­tion for Ram­per­sad, he re­ferred the is­sue of cal­cu­lat­ing it to a High Court Mas­ter.

In his judge­ment, Seep­er­sad de­scribed the lack of co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Min­istry and the State-owned spe­cial pur­pose com­pa­ny as alarm­ing.

He said: "It is un­fath­omable that an agency of the State, paid for by tax­pay­ers, would be con­duct­ing road­work with­out the su­per­vi­sion of the Min­istry of Works."

Not­ing that the work was per­formed by the EMDB in the run-up to the 2015 gen­er­al elec­tions, Seep­er­sad stat­ed that politi­cians should not dis­re­gard pub­lic safe­ty in their bid to se­cure votes.

"It is un­ten­able that mem­bers of the pub­lic would be ex­posed to the risk of per­son­al in­jury through the reck­less na­ture of work con­duct­ed by the EMDB," Seep­er­sad said.

EMDB is cur­rent­ly in­volved in a car­tel claim against for­mer Hous­ing Min­is­ter Dr Roodal Mooni­lal, for­mer EM­BD CEO Gary Par­mas­sar, for­mer di­vi­sion­al man­agers Mad­hoo Bal­roop and An­drew Walk­er, and five con­trac­tors. The claim cen­tres around 10 con­tracts for re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of roads in Ca­roni, which were grant­ed to the con­trac­tors in 2015.

- by Derek Achong

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