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PSU President: the entire process instituted against the public officer is flawed

Forestry Officer Daniel Chi was, according to the Public Service Regulations, to first have received a verbal warning and an opportunity to correct any alleged minor misconduct, Public Service Union (PSU) President Dean Flowers told The Reporter this week.

Flowers, who informed that they are still awaiting an update on the Public Service Commission's deliberations, stressed that the Regulations is clear as it pertains to the minor misconduct of insubordination: an officer who commits a minor offense must receive a verbal warning of his conduct.

The regulations go on to state that if that conduct persists, that officer should then be issued a written warning which should then be copied to the relevant Ministry. Section 83(4) notes that if the officer continues to offend, then disciplinary action may be sought by a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), but that officer must first be informed in writing and given an opportunity to defend his/herself before the Public Service Commission gets involved to review the facts of the case.

Flowers explained that that entire process has been ignored, and instead, the government had placed Chi on Administrative Leave, an act for which Flowers say Chi has already been advised as having a solid legal case against the government.

Flowers also underscored the point that the allegations against Chi need to be reviewed. “Mr. Chi could have never hung up as he never had a phone in his hand,” the PSU President explained. “The [Prime Minister] was on the phone with Chan’s mother-in-law and the phone was on speaker. Chi’s hands were occupied with the illegal species of plant.”

“He simply refused to entertain the call and refused to take the phone,” Flowers stressed.

Regarding the matter going before the Public Service Commission, Flowers explained that before anything happens, the Commission must communicate to Chi that a report has been received and request a response from him. In a previous interview, Flowers had described the idea that the Commission would even be considering disciplinary measures against Chi as "foolishness." Flowers had warned that dismissing Chi over the incident could have "serious financial consequences" for the government and people of Belize. In mid-April, Chi had seized plants belonging to Diani Chan, owner of "Botanical Gardens by Roselyn" in the Corozal district. The plants reportedly lacked permits required under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). During the exchange, Chan called Briceño who attempted to intervene and direct Chi to cease the seizure of the plants. If the Commission determines that the officer has indeed consistently engaged in conduct that amounts to a minor offense, it has the option to impose a number of penalties which include: (i) caution; (ii) surcharge; (iii) fine; or (iv) suspension of increment. Alternately, Under Section (c), the commission may "refer the public officer to the following programmes (i) coaching or mentorship programme; or (ii) employee assistance programme under regulation 206."

Dismissal is notably absent from the list of penalties rolled out for a minor offense, as is administrative leave. Chi was also placed on leave without a verbal or written warning, and his recommendation for dismissal came without him being afforded the numerous opportunities for self-correction, prescribed by the Regulations.

The PSU has stated that it intends to support Chi in seeking legal action if he is unfairly dismissed, but warned that the lawsuit could be "very hefty."

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