Dr Sawh ‘race’ probe hits snag

THE investigation into allegations of racial slurs by San Fernando-based doctor Avinash Sawh is now at a standstill because of a procedural flaw. As a result, the Council of the Medical Board of Trinidad and Tobago has withdrawn its original letter to Sawh outlining five complaints about his behaviour and is now seeking to restart the complaints process, as the original complaints were not done on signed Medical Board complaint forms. The Board will decide at its regular monthly meeting next month if it will embark on a fresh probe. The Medical Board’s attorney, Rajiv Persad, however emphasised yesterday that the probe into Sawh is not over and that he has not been cleared. Speaking to the Express via telephone yesterday, Persad said: “What we decided is that we will finish the complaints process and at the next meeting we will see if any of those persons fill out the form and sign it and if they do that, the Council in February will revisit its decision whether to hold an enquiry. So it’s not that it (investigation) has come to an end.” Persad pointed out that even without an official complaint, the Council can exercise its powers under Section 24 of the Medical Board Act and conduct a probe into a medical practitioner. Sawh is under probe regarding racist comments he made in a series of audio recordings and his use of abusive language towards his former employee Arielle Figaro. The doctor, who owns Sawh’s Medical Associates in San Fernando, apologised for his behaviour a week after the recordings were leaked to social media in November. The five people who originally complained to the Medical Board about the doctor were Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh, Dr Andre Alleyne, actor Karian Forde, Denica Richards and Justin Ramroop. Their complaints attached to a letter sent by the Board to Sawh’s attorney Martin George on November 12. New decision However, in a letter to George yesterday, Persad said he agreed with George that the dispatching of the November 12 letter without the Council first obtaining the signed complaint forms was premature and that such a step should have been completed before the letter was dispatched. He also noted that “any proceedings relative to the conduct of any medical practitioners must be conducted in a manner that is fair”. Persad said he advised the Council that the “most sensible” way of dealing with George’s concerns will be for the Council to withdraw its November 12 letter to Sawh. He said the Council accepted his advice, and during its regular monthly meeting for January, it agreed to formally withdraw the letter. “This course of action we think is reasonable as it would allow the Council to determine whether any of the persons who raise complaints/ concerns are willing to formally fill out and sign the complaint form,” Persad stated. “If that happens, that material as well as whatever other material that the Council has before it that is relevant will be submitted to the Council who will consider afresh whether or not an enquiry may be warranted,” he said. He said the Council will make every effort to have the process completed over this month to allow the people who raised concerns an opportunity to fill out and sign the complaint form should they choose to do so. “Having regard to the urgency of the matter, I have also advised the Council that at its next regular monthly meeting in February 2021 it should make a new decision as to whether, based on the material before them, they should embark upon an enquiry. Needless to say I have advised them of the options open to them under Section 24 of the Medical Board Act,” he added. Complaints flaw not incurable On December 1, George issued pre-action protocol letters to the Board claiming that the five complaints made against his client were not done on the Board’s official complaint form. He said as a result of this, the complaints were all “wholly flawed, null and void”. He urged the Board not to try to remedy the situation by trying getting complainants to resubmit their complaints using the correct complaint procedure. He gave the Board until January 12 to quash its probe relating to the five complaints. George again wrote the Board on December 15 accusing it of being “tainted with bias” against his clients and stepping out of its statutory remit by secretly reaching out to people to invite them to file complaints against Sawh. He alleged that one such person the Board contacted was Sawh’s former employee Arielle Figaro. However, in its letter yesterday, the Board denied this and asked that proof be provided. The Board also denied George’s suggestion of bias and said it disagreed with him that the flaw in the complaints process was incurable at this stage. It also said it was “a bit confused” by George’s December 15 letter in which he took issue with the Council sending out letters to people who had raised concerns about Sawh and enclosing a complaint form and inviting those people to fill out the complaint form. George: Board acted properly Responding to the Board’s decision, George told the Express via telephone yesterday that he felt the Board acted “properly”, based on the advice from its attorney. “This is in keeping with the position we had advanced, which is if there is no proper due process, procedural process and adherence to the principles of natural justice then your complaints process then becomes flawed and tainted. So that’s why they had to withdraw this letter where they had raised these five original complaints. We raised objections to every aspect to those five original complaints,” he said.