Former government minister and political activist Devant Maharaj has been given the green light to pursue a lawsuit against the Ministry of National Security’s refusal to disclose information on its policy regarding travel exemptions under ongoing COVID-19 regulations.
Last Friday, High Court Judge Ronnie Boodoosingh granted Maharaj leave to pursue his judicial review claim in which he is contending that the ministry’s permanent secretary breached the Freedom of Information Act by failing to respond to his request for information.
A case management conference of the case is scheduled to take place, next Wednesday.
In his court filings, obtained by Guardian Media, Maharaj’s lawyers claimed that he decided to make the request for the information on the policy inclusive of the qualifying criteria and the names of those who were approved after receiving numerous complaints from citizens, who still remain stranded abroad.
“Many persons have complained to the applicant that they or their loved ones who are stranded abroad are not citizens of those countries, and they are being evicted, denied health care and exhausted their savings and resources,” they claimed in the judicial review application.
“Their frustration and depression are compounded by the fact that some persons have been granted permission by the defendant to re-enter whilst their applications for permission have either been rejected or remain languishing without any explanation,” they added.
According to the documents, Maharaj made the request for the information on June 9 and only received an email response confirming receipt of his correspondence on June 17.
Maharaj’s lawyers claimed he is still awaiting an official response to his query.
“The failure to disclose the criteria by which applications for exemptions are being evaluated invests the defendant with totalitarian power which, in the circumstances, elevates him to the status of God because his decisions effectively and in reality means that he is choosing who will live or die given the desperation and ruination of many citizens, who are stranded abroad,” they said.
They also contended that the failure to disclose could result in discrimination allegations, especially with the upcoming general elections.
“It (the policy) also allows the defendant to allow friends, financiers, and supporters of the ruling party to re-enter on the eve of our general elections which is scheduled for August 10 and so gain an unfair and unlawful advantage against the opposition party. This concern has in fact been articulated by the Leader of the Opposition on many occasions in public,” they said.
Through the lawsuit, Maharaj is seeking an order compelling the ministry to respond to his request and a declaration that he is entitled to the disclosure in the act.
Maharaj is being represented by Anand Ramlogan, SC, Jayanti Lutchmedial, Ganesh Saroop and Che Dindial.