Local Government Minister Kellawan Lall yesterday called the City Council’s appointment of Royston King as Town Clerk “null and void,” saying he had not granted approval in keeping with the law, while King later said he was carrying out the decision of the council.
“As minister I have to approve a recommendation for who should be the chief executive officer and in the other instance acting or exercising the powers of the commission, I can appoint not merely approve, appoint,” Lall told a press briefing held yesterday in the boardroom of his Kingston Office.
At a statutory Council meeting on Monday, a motion was passed for King to immediately take up the functions of Town Clerk, pending his confirmation by the subject minister. “It is my firm belief that that motion is null and void and cannot stand scrutiny. It collides with the provisions of the Municipal and District and Council’s Act,” Lall said. The validity of the motion was also considered “improper and irregular” by attorney for acting Town Clerk Yonette Pluck-Cort, Robert Ramcharran.
While Mayor Hamilton Green yesterday said he stood by the minister’s position, several councillors defended the motion and King said he was satisfied that he was carrying out a council decision to perform duties of Town Clerk.
According to the Act: “The power save as otherwise provided hereinafter to appoint persons to hold or to act in any local government offices, the emolument of which exceeds $4,800 per annum, the power to exercise disciplinary control over any person holding or acting in such offices and the power to remove any such persons from office shall vest in the commission.”
It further states: “The power to appoint the chief executive officers or persons to hold or act in any local government offices, the emolument of which exceeds $4,800 per annum, the powers to exercise disciplinary control over any persons holding or acting in such officers and the power to remove any such persons from the office shall vest in the council to which such person is to be appointed or in which he holds office and in the case of the appointment of a chief executive officer be subject to the approval of the minister.”
Lall yesterday reiterated that the motion collided with the law. In addition to providing for King’s appointment, the motion also called for Pluck-Cort to cease acting in the substantive office of Town Clerk, revert to her substantive position of Deputy Town Clerk and to immediately prepare the requisite handover or takeover statements of all charters, deeds, records and other documents belonging to the council.
The motion was moved by Councillor Ranwell Jordan and seconded by Gwendolyn McGowan.
“You cannot, as the motion says here, appoint somebody with immediate effect when in fact you have to make a recommendation to the minister. They all know that…. Persons can be selected as a chosen one but… must be appointed that was not done,” Lall said, while adding that he could not understand why the motion was allowed at all.
Lall said the situation would have “some serious implications” since he was informed that King “attempted to usurp the functions of the Town Clerk.” As a result, Lall said he was investigating the allegation and he was also seeking legal advice since he believed it was an offence. “If it is true that Mr Royston King and any other officer in this matter attempted to usurp the position of the Town Clerk… then I will consider him not worthy of the position of the Town Clerk any longer,” he added.
The minister stated too that King’s position as PRO may be in jeopardy if the investigations reveal that he tried to usurp Pluck-Cort’s position. “He claims to be an officer of the council for 25 years; he is making pretentions to be the Town Clerk, he ought to know what are the procedures,” said Lall.
Meanwhile, he also said that the Personnel Officer (PO) would have to give reasons for her actions, while noting that he learnt that she had instructed that Pluck remove herself from office and give it over to King. “She also would have to give reason why she ought not to be dismissed. I intend to take those matters further,” Lall said.
Lall said he had written to the Mayor on Tuesday on the matter of the appointment of the Town Clerk. He said he was appalled “at attempts to create mayhem” and suggested that a new panel be constituted as early as possible to examine all the applications submitted at the ministry and City Hall, with Pluck-Cort remaining in the position of acting Town Clerk.
Mayor Green said he agreed with Lall that the appointment was null and void. In an invited comment, he told Stabroek News that when the motion was passed at Monday’s statutory meeting, he along with head of the Personnel and Training Committee Councillor Oscar Clarke pointed out to Jordan and McGowan that only the minister could appoint. Green also acknowledged receipt of a letter from the minister and said he had “no difficulties” with going over the process like the minister suggested in his letter.
King, in a brief response, stated: “Having regards to the organisation’s protocols, I am fully satisfied that I am carrying out a decision of council to perform the duties of Town Clerk.” When asked if he attempted to usurp Pluck-Cort, he said at no time did he usurp anyone.
Councillors who voted in favour of the motion defended it and King’s appointment. They also sought legal advice on the situation and said attorney Nigel Hughes informed them that the act “does not restrict the council from resolving that an officer perform the duties of a particular office pending the approval of the minister.”
Councillor Llewellyn John, a lawyer, said the “fundamental error” came when the minister substituted himself for the council. “The system of local government i
n Guyana is a system based upon the corporate personality. It is not the euphemistically so-called democratic centralism which means that the councillors are there at the dictates of their political parties. The councillors are there to operate within the powers granted by the corporation. And what has been given to the corporation is the right to approve or disapprove,” John explained, in reference to the act. “It does not give the minister to take upon himself to decide that he can now appoint officers,” he added, while saying that the matter is for legal interpretation. He, however, maintained that the council was acting within its power.
Councillor Ann Chase-Green, who is a member of the Personnel and Training Committee, said six persons had applied to City Hall to fill the post, after it was advertised. She added that requests were made to the ministry to forward applications there to City Hall. “That was not forthcoming [and] based on that we went ahead as a statutory body formed by council to perform the duties,” she said.
Applicants were interviewed, Chase-Green said, adding that Pluck-Cort did not attend her interview, disqualifying herself from the position. “Not turning up for the interview showed that you are not interested,” Chase-Green said.
“I don’t understand the actions of the minister,” she added. “For all the years I have been here, we have been interviewing persons and we would submit the recommendation to the minister. He either approves, and he has always approved, he has never in any instance said that he does not approve of any appointment. He may take very long. Now for him to go to the public and say he doesn’t approve is an insult to the council,” Chase-Green stated.
Both she and John noted that there are several appointed officers serving in City Hall without their letter of confirmation from the minister, including the Chief Constable and the Director of the Solid Waste Department. Chase-Green called it “an assault to this council, [and] to the committee” to go over the process. Further, she said it was also an insult to other appointments since they too can be considered null and void.
Chase-Green further stated that King is acting on a decision of council. “As far as council is concerned, the appointment still stands,” she said.
Also in support of King’s appointment is the Head of the Guyana Local Government Officers Union (GLGOU) Andrew Garnett. He said “Unless the minister has evidence of unsuitability, lack of performance, lack of capacity, lack of adequate qualification or some misdemeanour on the part of King, he has a responsibility to appoint.”