Even by the undemanding standards of this country, what happened on Wednesday was exceptional. Perhaps it was the sheer effrontery of it, with no attempt whatever made to mask an undeniable perversion of due process. This latest display of contempt for the citizens of Georgetown was presumably inflicted by the twin Ministers of Local Government, who in the process ironically also showed disdain for the supposed beneficiary of what has the outward appearance at least of an iniquitous little plot.
And what exactly happened? In short, Ms Carol Sooba was appointed Town Clerk. That in itself is a major cause for concern, but in this instance, the way in which it was accomplished has been a source of especial disquiet for the residents of the capital. Ms Sooba has been acting as Town Clerk for some months over the strenuous objections of the city council, but it transpires that she was not confirmed in the position without supposedly ‘normal’ procedures being followed first – and therein lies the problem.
The post of Town Clerk was advertised as it should have been, and the Ministry of Local Government set forth the criteria for applicants desirous of filling it. Among the requirements, according to Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Green, was one that the applicant should have a degree in either Law, Economics, Urban Planning or Public Management. The various interested parties appear to have had no problem with the criteria, any more than with the interview panel which the ministry established. As we reported in our Friday edition, the members of this body included Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government Collin Croal, who was the chairman; Deputy Mayor Chase-Green; President of the Guyana Local Government Officers Union Dale Beresford; the principal personnel officer of the Public Services Ministry; and a representative from the Ministry of Finance.
According to Ms Chase-Green, there were four applicants under consideration, including Mr Paul Clark, who she said is currently pursuing a Masters in International Business Law and holds a post-graduate Diploma in International Trade; a Bachelor’s degree in Law and another in Economics, among other things. There was too Mr Royston King in addition to Ms Sooba and another person whom she did not name. The panel, it appears, did not have the last two in the frame because they simply did not meet the ministry’s criteria.
We reported Ms Chase-Green as saying that while all the applicants were required to bring their certificates to the interview for inspection, Ms Sooba did not do so, and yesterday we went on to report that the newly appointed Town Clerk’s highest academic qualification is a Diploma in Personnel and Industrial Relations from the University of Guyana. The Deputy Mayor had earlier told the media that the city’s most senior officer was pursuing a law programme from UG, and that when she was asked when she had started the programme, she gave the date as 2006. She was the least qualified of the candidates, according to Ms Chase-Green, and it will come as no surprise for citizens to learn that all the members of the panel apparently seemed to be in agreement that Mr Clark was the best candidate.
One must presume that everyone went home expecting that Mr Clark would soon be offered the job, but on Wednesday, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon announced that Ms Sooba had been appointed. Apart from anything else, what is the point of publishing criteria for a post, going to the trouble of setting up an interview panel, and then bypassing the criteria and ignoring the recommendation of the panel? Why the pretence? Why not just appoint Ms Sooba without going through the motions of what is essentially a sham exercise? The government has done some extraordinary things in the last twenty years, but this time it has outdone itself.
On Friday, the Local Government Ministers came out fighting, particularly the senior member of the duo who without a flicker of embarrassment said to the media, “I don’t know that she [Ms Sooba] has less qualifications…” We also reported Mr Whittaker as telling them that since Ms Sooba had been acting in the post of Town Clerk the general service provided by the council had improved. Now, it so happens he is talking about the lady who terminated the contracts of two garbage contractors and then didn’t replace them, thereby precipitating a garbage crisis which in turn aggravated a subsequent flooding crisis. One has to wonder, therefore, whether he is not a victim of some strange and rare complaint whereby his perceptions of the world around him have become addled.
As for the hapless Ms Sooba herself, she seems oblivious to the fact that she is simply being used. She presumably has some skills, but whatever these are they do not include the ability to run the city of Georgetown. But then her bosses do not intend her to succeed in that department; the whole point is that the capital should become even further run down, the garbage pile-up should increase, the drains should become further silted up and maybe even that heritage icon, City Hall, should disintegrate into dust. And even though the PPP controls the city through the agency of their Town Clerk, their whole aim is to blame the city council, which does not control the money and as has been demonstrated, exercises no leverage over Ms Sooba who takes her instructions from the Ministers of Local Government.
What the governing party wants, as has been said many times before, is to have official control of the capital by virtue of an IMC which they would like to impose before local government elections, and which will be provided with the necessary funding to clean up Georgetown. It is a puerile and irresponsible ploy, which after years of this misery will not produce the results they are seeking ‒ namely a victory in local elections. And in the meantime, Ms Sooba is earning herself a reputation for incompetence as well as indifference to the plight of the city and its heritage, which will dog her later down the line. Why does she want to put herself in that situation at all?
Mr Whittaker was reported as saying that none of the applicants for the position of Town Clerk was qualified for it. Well, if that was really so, and there was something wrong with Mr Clark’s credentials and after him those of Mr Royston King, it still makes absolutely no sense to appoint Ms Sooba. In those circumstances no one should have been appointed, and the post should have been re-advertised.
An irascible Minister Persaud under pressure from the media at one point told them, “This is my press conference and I am not answering any more questions on this.” He did later try to mitigate this by saying that he was fully aware “that the people out there need answers,” and went on to say that his ministry was giving them the answer.” He didn’t, of course, say anything that qualified as an explanation, going no further than to comment in the vein, “Ms Sooba is the best suited overall…” But then how do you explain away a farce?