As Director, Mr Duncan was involved in discussions about the Chronicle GM position, he is unqualified for the job

Dear Editor,

While I consider myself ethically constrained, though not obligated, to refrain from detailed public commentary on issues involving professional positions I hold or held, it would be irresponsible if I, as a former director on the Board of Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GNNL) were not to correct on record claims made by Sherod Duncan in your article, ‘Duncan denies being given preference as Guyana Chronicle GM’ (SN – June 28, 2018)

For the purposes of brevity, I will dismiss areas where he was merely economical with the truth.  Instead, I will go directly to Mr. Duncan’s claim that he was not involved in any discussions with regard to his taking up the position of General Manager, a complete lie.  When Mr. Duncan’s application was brought to the attention of the Board, it was noted that it was submitted after the deadline for applications but would be considered as submitted in the context of a new round of applications being opened.  It was communicated to him that it was curious that he would accept the position of Director of a company to which he was applying for a management post.  He was given two options – rescind his application or resign as director and apply competitively. 

At a board meeting in September, 2017, he was asked to recuse himself from deliberations on the issue. I pointed out to the other directors that it would be better if he rescinded his application because, having read his CV, it was clear to me that he did not have academic, sectoral, or management experience to be assigned to the post and there were better qualified applicants, including some who also did not even reach the basic mandatory requirements for the job.  The position was put to Mr. Duncan and he was non-committal to either path.

On October 25, a petition of sorts from Mr. Duncan was presented to the Board via e-mail outlining a mechanism that he believed could be used to place him in the position of GM.  In this petition, Mr. Duncan argued – correctly – that the Board had the power, via GNNL’s Articles of Incorporation, to appoint any of their member to the office of ‘Managing Director’, not General Manager.        

Mr. Duncan concluded…

“…if I am to follow the thinking that if as a Director I aspire to become GM, so I must resign, would this thinking be extending to a Finance Controller or Board Company Secretary or an Acting General Manager who sits at the level of the board? Would that individual be required to resign if the individual has identical aspirations? Certainly, nothing less could be required in the vein of what would be ‘unethical’.”

It should be noted that the company rules do not allow for any GNNL staff member to sit on the board of directors except as a staff representative so the above was a null argument, made either out of ignorance or duplicity.  My response was as follows:

“My view on this, with respect to Director Duncan’s missive:

1. With regard to the submission of the original application, awareness of the application was brought to the attention of the Board after the appointment of the new Board and therefore after the effective closure of the original process. It was not handed over in the original batch of applications considered and hence we have no verifiable evidence that it was submitted prior to deadline for applications. For the Board to accept, as record, that it was submitted in time would not be considered as best governance. Consensus was nonetheless taken that it should be informally considered and it was.

2. While the articles of incorporation do stipulate that the Board may appoint a director as managing director of the company from time to time, discretion remains with the Board collectively. In this regard, the collective view of the Board has been that should Director Duncan seek to apply in an open, transparent and competitive call for applications made so as to attract the best candidate, he should resign as a prerequisite of his application being considered. I would allow that this consensus decision can be reconsidered if put to a vote by a member of the Board in a process that Director Duncan, of course, would be recused from, with the motion to reconsider being moved by another member of the Board.

3. Articles of incorporation and timeliness of application notwithstanding, the fundamental issue of suitability with regard to qualification and experience remains. I have seen nothing in Director Duncan’s CV as presented that even remotely satisfies, either directly or via reasonable equivalency, the basic requirements for the position of General Manager – [qualified] pronouncements on his basic eligibility for the position were not, from a board perspective, unanimous. If there have been omissions in his original application that he believes qualify him, his new application should reflect these. I have reattached the advertisement for GM for your reconsideration.”

This opinion was expressly supported by the majority of the Board.  Unless it is that in the subsequent months between that consensus and his appointment Mr. Duncan has somehow miraculously enhanced both his qualification and experience in keeping with those advertised as mandatory for the post of General Manager, he is as unqualified now as he was then.

In brief, there are only two scenarios in which Mr. Duncan could have been appointed as ‘General Manager’.  In the first, a Board of only five members, himself included, decided to deliberately disregard far more qualified applicants than Mr. Duncan and appoint him to the position of GM.  In the second, a Board of only five members, himself included, would have used the flimsy legitimacy of the Articles of Incorporation and appointed Mr. Duncan as Managing Director, not General Manager, again disregarding qualified applicants and his lack of qualification for the post.  Either scenario falls short of any reasonable standard of public accountability.

I noticed recently, from Mr. Duncan’s self-promotion on social media, that no less a person than the Reverend Murtland Massiah presided over an absurd ceremony at GNNL, attended by company staff, essentially blessing his appointment.  Were we to disregard the cultural insensitivity of the macabre pantomime of the event in which a Christian pastor was called in to officiate such a ‘coronation’ in an organization in which the staff come from diverse religious backgrounds, the absurdity of a blessing of what is purported to be an individual professional appointment to a state company remains, even more so considering the indecency of the appointment.

Your article mentioned the curated theatricality of Mr. Duncan’s opposition to the parking meters issue during his tenure as Deputy Mayor of Georgetown.  If Mr. Duncan wants to stick to the increasingly transparent mask of accountability and integrity that he donned in that fiasco, he should tender his resignation not only from the position he currently holds, at the expense of more qualified candidates, but from the Board itself.  If he fails to do so, the Board should correct this travesty and rescind the appointment – either that or resign itself.

Yours faithfully,

Ruel Johnson

Former Director,

Guyana National Newspapers


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