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Thursday 22 February 2018
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Court rules for South gas stations

A HIGH COURT judge has ruled that the Ministry of Energy went beyond its powers when it made a decision to shut down two gas stations in South Trinidad.

Justice Carol Gobin ruled in favour of gas station owners, brothers Prakash Maharaj, who owned the Fyzabad Service Station and Adesh Maharaj, who owned the King’s Wharf Service Station, and held that the decision by the Ministry of Energy to close down the two gas stations was ‘‘ultra vires, null and void and of no effect.’’

Both gas stations had been closed because of allegations of impropriety after which its owners took the Energy Ministry to court, Adesh Maharaj took over the operations at the King’s Wharf station from his father in whose name the licence was assigned.

Upon his father’s death he was informed by NP that it was prepared to treat with him as the licenced holder until the assignment of the licence was changed to his name.

In Prakash Maharaj’s case, he was granted a retail marketing licence in 2001, and had been continually issued a renewed licence until 2010 and his annual fee was paid up until 2012, since up until 2010, renewed licences had not been formally issued by the ministry.

Both men were in November and December of 2012, accused of breaches of the petroleum regulations, and both stations were shut down by the ministry.

As she dealt with the issue concerning the licence, Gobin, in her 34 page judgment, expressed hope that the argument by the ministry that applications for licences submitted to it were withheld pending a review of the marketing retail licences, did not excite a response on the part of the Director of Public Prosecutions, or prompt any over-zealous member of the Police Service into action.

“...Or the country may come to a virtual standstill,” Gobin said.

“The MEEA could not have intended to have retailers operating outside the law, neither could it have intended by its decision to deliberately expose this class of persons to criminal process. The MEEA’s actions can only be interpreted as a relaxation of the technical requirement for the issuance of the paper, or executed document,” she said.

In her ruling, Gobin said both gas station owners were entitled to the renewal of their licences. She held that it was obvious that the licence contained no sanctions of suspension or revocation for breach of any term, and neither did the Petroleum Act.

Gobin also addressed the allegation levelled against Prakash as it related to illegal diesel trade, saying that “there is no pretending that in the case here, the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs officials were not acting pursuant to information on general investigations into activities involving the illegal sale of diesel,” Gobin said.

She also noted that some 20 months after the closure of both gas stations, neither owner had been charged with a criminal offence. She also noted that the ministry could not ‘‘arrogate unto itself a power that is so intrusive by implication.”

She held that the two gas station owners were entitled to the resumption of their operations under their original licences which were still in existence until its closure. The judge also declared that the service of non-compliance notices was procedurally unfair and in breach of the legitimate expectation of both gas station owners that they would have been given sufficient notice, and an opportunity to address the allegations before the suspension or revocation of their licences.

Damages for the two men are to be assessed by a High Court Master and the Energy Ministry was ordered to pay the costs of bringing the lawsuit.

A stay of execution of the court’s ruling was granted for 21 days. The two men were represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, while Russell Martineau,SC, Kelvin Ramkissoon and Wayne Sturge appeared for the Energy Ministry.

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