AS MINISTER of Foreign Affairs in 2005, Knowlson W Gift wrote to the Consul General at New York recommending that a job be given to a clerical officer saying this appointment came “with the blessing of the hierarchy at Balisier House”, documents obtained by Sunday Newsday disclose.
Gift’s letter is one of a series of seemingly peculiar recruitment practices at the Consulate General of Trinidad and Tobago at New York, where several members of staff were recruited over a period of years though no proof of authorisation to work in the United States was ever produced, according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs correspondence.
Gift’s letter, dated August 3, 2005, was addressed to then Consul General Dr Harold Robertson. On paper bearing the Coat of Arms and the header of the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gift referred to apparent “conversations” over the recruitment of staff. Gift wrote, “Dear Consul General, This is a follow-up to previous conversations regarding the employment of Mr Terrence Gregory Lewis at the Consulate General, New York.” The Minister in charge of the Foreign Service then stated this appointment came with the stamp of approval of PNM headquarters.
“Mr Lewis’ recommendation for employment at the Consulate General comes with the blessing of the hierarchy at Balisier House,” Senator Gift wrote. “Mr Lewis’ resume is attached.”
There is no further elaboration in the letter, which is then signed, “Yours sincerely, Knowlson W. Gift, Minister of Foreign Affairs.”
The letter was faxed to the New York Consulate with a cover sheet reading, “Urgent” on the afternoon of August 3, 2005, and was sent alongside another letter of the same date from Gift relating to the employment of another worker, Angeline Ramlal.
Gift’s letter approving Ramlal’s appointment was worded differently. It read, “Dear Consul General, This will confirm previous conversations on the above and to indicate to you that you may now proceed with the appointment of Ms Angeline Ramlal as a replacement for Ms Jocelyn McCloud. With best regards. Yours sincerely, Knowlson W. Gift.” Ramlal is one of eight persons whose contract of employment with the Consulate was not renewed in 2012 when the term of her temporary contract expired. Lewis – whose appointment came, according to Gift, “with the blessing of the hierarchy of Balisier House” is to date still employed at the Consulate sources there report.
The issue of the termination of the eight persons last year at the Consulate was last week reported to be headed for legal action at the Industrial Court.
The “Gift” letter citing Balisier House blessings is just one of many strange incidents involving the Consulate at 125 Maiden Lane, New York. Correspondence sent to Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Margaret Parillon, detail instances where persons were employed and kept on employment without authorisation to work in the US. In one instance, staff swore to seeing authorisation, even before the actual authorisation existed.
A July 2012 report sent to Parillon by current Consul General Rudrawatee Nan Ramgoolam — which has been obtained by Sunday Newsday — states that of the eight persons whose terms of contract had come to an end last year, three did not fulfill the normal requirements for eligibility for work in the US.
For instance, Ramlal — whose employment was the subject of the “urgent” letter of approval from Gift in 2005 — was “initially hired on a B1/B2 USA visa (visitor category) in 2005 without authorisation to work. Subsequently, the Consul General at the time then pursued a change in visa status to A2 (government visa category).”
Ramlal was employed since August 15, 2005. A two-year contract she later entered into expired on August 18, 2011. She was then placed on a temporary six-month employment contract. Her contract was not renewed.
But things were far stranger in relation to Ashton Hosford, a security officer employed since August 1, 1994. The report of the Consul General states, “Personnel file provides no evidence that authorisation for employment in the USA was proffered to the Consulate General except for the period December 27, 2005 to December 26, 2006.”
However, “it is noted that in his personnel file that he presented an employment authorisation card from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services valid from December 27, 2005, to December 26, 2006. However the then Consul, Administration (name not called), in a file note indicated that she saw the original of the Employment Authorisation Card on May 10, 2005, seven months prior to the validity date of the document.”
Hosford’s most recent contract, a two-year contract entered into in March 2010, expired on March 10, 2012. He was then placed on a temporary five-month contract which was not renewed.
Another employee among the eight, Michael Braithwaite, was employed since September 10, 1990. But, the Consul General, in the report to Parillon dated July 25, 2012, remarked that, “personnel file provides no evidence that authorisation for employment in the USA was proffered to the Consulate General.” Like Hosford, Braithwaite entered a two-year contract in March 2010 which expired on March 7, 2012. He was then placed on a temporary five-month contract before termination.
The termination of the employment of the eight employees has been the subject of allegations and counter-allegations of racism and political victimisation and has been raised repeatedly by the Opposition PNM in Parliament and elsewhere. Read More