Auditor General Deodat Sharma has been asked to investigate City Hall Public Relations Officer Royston King for allegedly signing a tax waiver without the legal authority to do so, according to acting Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker.
Whittaker also told Stabroek News last week that he had written a letter to the Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud to also alert him about the purported irregularity. “I have asked the Auditor General to investigate the matter and I have also written a letter to the Police Commissioner on the matter,” he said, while explaining that he was “not about to accuse King of anything” but that the situation was enough to warrant investigations.
The waiver for some $36 million was granted to the Beacon Foundation, and King is apparently identified as acting Town Clerk.
This newspaper understands that the letter issued to the Beacon Foundation was dated July 13, 2012, and according to a source,
“the date on the letter might have been a typographical error and it was only in court two years after that King’s letter of exemption had come up.”
King had briefly held the post in 2012 after being appointed by the City Council to act in the stead of the substantive office holder who had been sent on leave to facilitate the police investigation into the city’s operations.
King was appointed by the councillors to act as Town Clerk on July 25, 2012.
Whittaker, however, said that he was unaware that King had ever acted in the capacity of Town Clerk and he added that at the time of the issuance of the letter, the Town Clerk was Yonette Pluck-Cort. “My attention was drawn to a letter purportedly under the signatory of Royston King, Town Clerk Acting. King has never performed the functions as Town Clerk or Acting Town Clerk,” he said.
Whittaker also contended that while the law allows for waivers under certain conditions, “it has to be certain that the body seeking the waiver is indeed a religious organisation.”
Under the Municipal and District Councils Act Chapter 28:01, Section 212, the council may grant such exemptions to religious and not-for-profit organisations.
Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Green said that the Beacon Foundation did write to the council requesting an exemption and that the council is standing behind King. “…I told them the procedure. The Minister is aware that exemptions are made to these organisations. He himself would have written asking for exemptions for organisations and several persons. We also have evidence that King was appointed by the council as Town Clerk for a brief period of time. We are standing behind King and we welcome the Auditor General but he may find more than what he is looking for,” she said.
In an invited comment, Georgetown Mayor Hamilton Green told Stabroek News that the decision to exempt the organisation was made by the councillors and not King.
“I don’t understand this; the Town Clerk [Carol Sooba] and her sponsors are clearly on a crusade of lunacy. Beacon Foundation is a non-governmental organisation that has always been given tax exemption. Sooba and her clique seem to feel that they should pay but this matter was discussed at the level of the full council and we agreed to give them an exemption,” he explained.
“The council and not the PRO made the decision, although the PRO was acting at the time as the Town Clerk,” he added.
Meanwhile, a source close to City Hall told this newspaper that an attempt is being made at slinging mud at King owing to the fact that his legal challenge of the decision to appoint Sooba resulted in her appointment being declared unlawful by the court. “They are just looking for the slightest thing to bring up because of the current matter with the Town Clerk,” the source said.