(Trinidad Guardian) Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley says he is disappointed by the actions of some 13 of 15 Immigration officers who failed to show up for duty at the Piarco International Airport on Sunday, resulting in hundreds of travellers having to wait for close to five hours to be processed.
Speaking at the opening ceremony for a bridge connecting Covigne Road and Spaniol Road in Diego Martin yesterday, Rowley said the disruption disheartened him.
“I must tell you that as Prime Minister I was extremely disheartened on Sunday when I saw what public servants did at Piarco. Here it is public servants are saying we are in a very difficult situation in T&T. Here it is as PM I am telling the country we have to borrow money to pay salaries at the end of the month, and the most comfortable of public servants could find nothing to do but to absent themselves from work and hold the population hostage in Piarco Airport for five hours and that is supposed to be understood by the rest of the population,” Rowley said.
He said as PM he has been “struggling to keep body and soul together” in governing the country and the Government is not prepared to accept this type of behaviour. He said he received a report from National Security Minister Edmund Dillon on Monday regarding the action and has handed it to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi. He said he wanted those willing to hold the country at ransom to know there are people who are not prepared to accept that. He said the action was dangerous and counter-productive given the present economic hardships facing the country.
“Immigration is part of the national security apparatus. There could have been people in that crowd that were sick, there could have been people in the crowd who had all kinds of reasons not to be there and look at what happened. We are not to be subjected to that and the Government is not going to tolerate it.”
But Immigration officers yesterday blamed management for Sunday’s chaos, insisting that the 13 officers were given official leave, including casual days, which were pre-approved. They also expressed concern that the report submitted by their superiors to Rowley may not be reflective of the truth.
It was initially reported that only two of the 15 officers turned up for work, but a breakdown showed 14 front-line officers in total were rostered for duty on that particular shift and only three reported for work, including one officer who was stationed at the departure desk and two at the arrival hall, the Immigration official, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation, said. The officer said four officers from the shift were on approved vacation leave, one was on casual leave approved since the beginning of the month, four were on sick leave with either the flu or red eye and two were on extended sick leave.
“All the officers were accounted for, therefore there was no strike. So the shortage was instead caused by poor management, it was not the fault of any immigration officer. But we know that the report sent to the Prime Minister would have been doctored to tell a different story,” the official said, reiterating that management must be probed too as there are too many “square pegs in round holes.”
National Security Minister Edmund Dillon says action will be taken against officers found in breach of the Immigration Act. He has also assured emergency measures have been put in place so as to mitigate any future occurrences at Piarco.