The Port Authority of Trinidad and Tobago seems to be in the spotlight all the time.
After the bungling of the contracts for the Trinidad to Tobago ferry service, the Authority now finds itself having to find $8.5 million to pay to a foreign used car dealer.
The High Court has been ordered the Authority to pay $8.5 million in damages to the Claxton Bay foreign-used car dealer for unfairly impounding 185 vehicles since 2015 due to unpaid demurrage fees.
Delivering an oral judgment, Justice Kevin Ramcharan ruled that the Authority acted illegally when it rescinded an agreement to waive the fees for A.M Marketing Limited. In addition to ordering Authority to pay damages, Ramcharan ordered that the vehicles be released within 28 days.
The dispute between the parties arose after the vehicles were imported into Trinidad from Japan between March and September 2014. The company imported the vehicles without import licences, as the Ministry of Trade and Industry had stopped issuing licences due to a separate lawsuit with the Automotive Dealers’ Association over its plans to introduce a new policy for the importation of fully assembled right-hand drive foreign-used cars.
The association’s claim was eventually dismissed, with the ministry retroactively granting the company the licences in December 2014.
A.M Marketing then entered into negotiations with the Authority over the $6.6 million in storage rental fees it owed for the period the ministry’s lawsuit was being determined.
In September 2015, the Authority came to a written settlement with the company, in which it agreed to waive the fees. However, within a week the Authority informed the company it had changed its mind and would auction the vehicles to recoup the money. The company sued, claiming the Authority had unilaterally rescinded the agreement.
In his judgment, Ramcharan criticized the Authority for attempting to mislead the court by failing to disclose it had made the settlement offer to the company.
While under cross-examination during thehearing, Ricardo Gonzales, the Authority’s Divisional Manager, admitted a partial waiver had in fact been granted to A.M Marketing but the decision was revoked on instruction of dismissed CEO and general manager, Charmaine Lewis. The reason for the change in position was due to a lack of clarity over the ministry’s acceptance of responsibility for the delay in granting the licences.
JUSTICE KEVIN RAMCHARAN