PHILIPSBURG–The Court of First Instance has ruled against the dismissal of former prison director Alwin A. Keli as per March 24, 2020. In its decision of November 20, the court stated it is of the opinion that country St. Maarten did not act in accordance with the requirements of reasonableness and fairness when it decided to terminate the labour agreement. Keli was awarded damages equal to four months’ salary, including vacation days not taken and lost vacation allowances.
Keli became director of the Pointe Blanche prison on April 1, 2019, and was hired for a period of three years. On February 6, 2020, he received a warning letter written by Minister of Justice Egbert Doran. In his letter Doran complained about the director’s unavailability to the prison and the minister during the weekend of November 30 and December 1, 2019. Another bone of contention was that Doran was not informed about unrest among the inmates because he did not want certain inmates back to work.
In response to a lawyer representing inmates who went on strike in protest against inadequate security in the Pointe Blanche prison, Keli stated without prior consultation with the minister that he “categorically and without reservation stipulate that he could not guarantee the safety of not a single detainee within the walls of the prison,” Doran wrote in his letter.
Keli also failed to give any feedback or follow-up on some 21 points to improve the prison. He allegedly took vacation without the justice minister’s permission from December 24, 2019, up to and including January 5, 2020, neglected to inform prison workers about an appreciation event for all justice workers in December 2019 and gave “third persons” a tour of the prison without the minister’s approval and knowledge.
“Your overall lack of management, control, oversight and your laissez faire attitude towards the prison and direction of same is beyond concerning, it is negligent and dangerous.
“As you have not reached out to me indicating a need for help or assistance, I must attribute these topics discussed during our meeting as failures for your own account and risk. Accordingly, I am invoking Article 1, Sub 5 of your contract and hereby terminating your contract effective one month from this letter’s date,” the Minister of Justice wrote in a termination letter of February 24, 2020.
Keli claimed that his termination was in violation of his labour agreement and demanded damages. He called on the court to declare his dismissal null and void and demanded payment of his salary from March 24, 2020, with a 20-per-cent increase, and payment of his salary until the expiration of his labour agreement on March 31, 2022.
However, the judge only adjudicated Keli’s secondary demands to rule his dismissal unreasonable and unfair and to award him damages.
In weighing this case, the judge established that the secretary-general of the Justice Ministry had disagreed with the minister’s intention to fire the prison director. Keli also never received a formal warning and no performance interview or appraisal had ever taken place. According to the court, sanctions in increasing severity can be imposed on an official who fails to fulfil his obligations or who is guilty of a breach of duty.
Keli has an extensive track record in security matters. He was assistant director Security and Operations at the Bon Futuro prison in Curaçao. He was deputy director of the Security Service of the former Netherlands Antilles, head of the Bureau of Military Affairs of the government of the former Netherlands Antilles and held various positions in the Dutch Marines and the Antillean militia.
Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/prison-director-s-dismissal-ruled-unreasonable-damages-awarded