A Court of Appeal has ruled that the Telecommunication Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) is a public authority and is subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
In a decision handed down on Friday, Justices of Appeal Alice Yorke-Soo Hon, Gregory Smith, and Malcolm Holdip dismissed the appeal of TSTT against a judge’s decision declaring the company a public authority within the meaning of the FOIA.
TSTT was contending a December 2018 ruling by Justice David Harris, who then declared that TSTT, a “public authority” under the act, and was subject to its provisions.
That particular matter was filed by social activist Ravi Balgobin-Maharaj, who brought the lawsuit in February 2017 after the telecommunications provider refused his request under the FOIA to disclose information on its management structure, salaries and its shareholder agreement.
The judge had been asked then to determine if TSTT was owned by or controlled by the State.
To decide the case, the appeal panel had to consider TSTT’s corporate history, especially in line of the fact that TSTT contended that it was neither “owned” nor “controlled” by the State; was not supported by government funds; and was not a public authority.
In the ruling, the Appeal Court judges, said that since the change of status of TSTT, now that there are no Cable and Wireless directors, all the members of the board of TSTT are, according to the Gazette, the representatives of the Government.
“That being the case, the Government/State, through its power to have its own representatives or nominees comprise the entire board of TSTT, is in effective control of TSTT. “
“It must be mentioned that the Gazette serves as official notification on behalf of the State and a court, in our opinion, can take judicial notice of its contents.
“It is, in our view, a de jure (legally recognised) source we can consider in deciding on the question of who is in effective control of TSTT,” according to Justice Smith.
He declared, “TSTT, at present, is, therefore, a public authority that is subject to the provisions of the FOIA as it is a ‘company incorporated under the laws of Trinidad and Tobago which is… controlled by the State.’”
However, Smith noted the present position could change, as “Government may divest itself of all or the greater part of its majority shareholding in TSTT or may re-vest the appointment of the board in another party or other parties.
“Who knows what the future holds? In such an eventuality, TSTT may cease to be under the control of the State and may not be a public authority under the FOIA.
“However, at present, as is evident from the information in the TT Gazette, the Government/State is in effective control of TSTT and it is a public authority for the purposes of the FOIA. As such, TSTT must give active consideration to the respondent’s request for information and documents.”