Former Chancellor of the Judiciary, retired Justice Cecil Kennard was yesterday sworn in as the sole commissioner on the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the administration and operations of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC).
Speaking with the media immediately after his swearing in, Kennard promised to conduct a “quick inquiry” provided that witnesses appear in a “speedy manner”. He noted that October 31 has been set as the deadline for submission of the report.
Deputy Chairman of the Local Government Commission, Andrew Garnett however noted that if in the process of the inquiry an extension becomes necessary then it will be granted. An extension for written submissions has already been granted since the notice of the inquiry was published late.
According to the advertisement which appeared in the Sunday Stabroek of September 16, written submissions were to be tendered on or before September 14. That deadline has since been extended to September 21.
Formal hearings for witnesses, complainants and other interested parties are scheduled to begin on Monday September 24th, 2018 at the Critchlow Labour College, situated at Woolford Avenue, Thomas Lands, Georgetown.
Garnett said that a Legal Clerk is stationed at the College to received written complaints. He added that at the time of the clerk’s appointment the LGC had already been in receipt of 11 complaints.
Asked by Stabroek News whether the commission is in a position to offer protection to those who might face reprisals for testifying, Garnett stressed that workers have a right to complain.
“The LGC is responsible for regulations and staffing at all local organs. Workers have complained. Their unions have complained they are under the protection of their union and under the protection of the LGC. There can be no reprisal, no act of victimization in terms of a worker who exercises their right to complain about working conditions or deprivation of benefits,” Garnett indicated.
Kennard added that persons, including businessmen, who wish to testify will be warned not to make any statement which would incriminate themselves at the level of the CoI and once he deems it necessary based on the nature of the submission in camera hearings may be held.
He also noted that evidence at the level of the CoI will include “whatever is relevant for the purpose of the inquiry. If it is relevant to the inquiry I will permit”.
Both men maintained that the timing of the CoI was in no way influenced by political considerations and expressed the view that it is unlikely to have any impact on the upcoming Local Government Elections.
“I want to make it abundantly clear that there is no political interference, that there is no political influence, there is no political agenda. We are carrying out our mandate as constituted in the Local Government Act and we do so fearlessly and without bias,” Garnett stressed, adding that “there is no political bias in terms of our work. We sit as a Commission and we take studied action based on what is presented to us.”
He stressed that the LGC was constituted via a process that weeds out bias. Commissioners who sit on the LGC have been nominated by President David Granger, Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan, Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo and the unions which represent Local Government Workers.
Kennard disclosed that he was approached since June to lead the commission but his workload meant he was unavailable before September 24.
“I don’t have any reason to fear that it will in any way influence the election one way or the other because what we are dealing with is one municipality only…Georgetown. We are not dealing with other municipalities,” Kennard added.
Garnett also stressed that for a commission which was sworn in last October the LGC is moving as swiftly as possible given the circumstances.
“We first had to set up our offices and deal with acquiring staff and furniture and then we made this decision in April which was good time I believe,” he said.
According to the Terms of Reference, Kennard is mandated to “Investigate the administration and operations of the Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown; [investigate] the reason for and the process by which a motion of no confidence on the Town Clerk was dealt with by the Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown; and generally to investigate any matter that may be brought to the attention of the Commissioner during the Inquiry that would adversely affect the administration and operation of the Municipality of Georgetown.”
The LGC has previously indicated that at its April 17th statutory meeting a unanimous decision was taken to set up a CoI to investigate the complaints received on the M&CC’s administration and operations. It explained that at a follow-up to the meeting, on June 21st, a second decision was taken to send Town Clerk Royston King on leave, pending the examination and determination of all issues under inquiry.
King will be proceeding on leave from September 21. Sources have indicated that he is expected to be one of the first to appear at the CoI to give evidence on his own behalf.
His predecessor Carol Sooba who sits on the LGC told Stabroek News that she is most concerned about the lack of proper procurement procedures at City Hall but maintained that she has not worked to influence the process in anyway.
“The way they operate is not the way I would operate. I operated with transparency there was a tendering process but on this commission I operate as a commissioner. I don’t bring any bias or burden from how I was treated at City Hall. I operate professionally and let the chips fall where they may,” she said adding that she has every confidence in Justice Kennard.
“Justice Kennard is a very competent and capable person over the years I have known him to be very impartial,” Sooba noted.