Town Clerk Royston King yesterday appeared before the Local Government Commission (LGC) to offer a defence to findings against him, including gross misconduct and abuse of office, stemming from the recent Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the operations of City Hall.
As part of his recommendations, retired Justice Cecil Kennard, who conducted the inquiry at the behest of the LGC, suggested that King “be brought before a disciplinary tribunal… as …he acted outside the scope and intent of the law on several occasions.” Stabroek News approached King both before and after his appearance but he declined to comment “at this time.”
Efforts to reach LGC Chair Mortimer Mingo also proved futile but Commissioner Carol Sooba, who was excluded from the meeting, explained that the hearing was an attempt by the commission to adhere to the precepts of natural justice.
“All the officers charged have a right to a fair hearing. Even though they may have appeared at the CoI, they still have the right to defend themselves against the charges,” she explained as she left the Commission’s Eping Avenue office.
Sooba and Norman Whittaker, a former Local Government Minister, were not present at the meeting as the commission had voted to have Sooba excluded from the consideration of the report in its entirety.
“The chairman is of the view that since comrade Sooba served as Town Clerk for a short period and because the matter of her dismissal and benefits are part of the report, she has an interest and should not be part of the meeting. We disagreed,” Whittaker said as they were leaving.
In a previous interview, Sooba stressed that she was prepared to recuse herself from the consideration of her own issue but as a constitutionally-appointed member of the commission, she would not recuse herself from the consideration of the entire report.
The report in question specifically identified as questionable the manner in which King leased lands and awarded contracts.
Kennard stressed that documents provided “indicated that contracts were awarded to friends and associates of key officials of the council, such as the son of the Mayor, the son of the Chairman of the Finance Sub-Committee, a friend of the son of the mayor, Indgrid and Brian Chase, who were embroiled in a land saga with the Town Clerk, and friends of the Town Clerk and the Mayor.”
He also argued that based on a few documents provided, the CoI formed the opinion that the Town Clerk acted outside his scope and in breach of his duties of an officer when he authorised certain payments to be made to contractors without written contracts.
Further, he found that the documents shown to the CoI by the acting City Treasurer indicated that the Town Clerk was reckless in granting leases to several persons for below fair market prices.
One such lease was granted to Quick Shipping for land which was later found to be owned by government’s holding company, the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited. Kennard argued that in that case and others, King rented these lands for low or no fees to businessmen who can afford.
“This to my mind is a fundamental breach of his duty of care for the council, particularly given the state of the council’s finances. This further warrants investigation and I believe the auditors of the State Asset Recovery Agency should be called in to probe further the issuing of leases and contracts to ascertain whether the Town Clerk and other officers are benefiting from perquisite of office,” the commissioner stressed. Attention was also drawn to the fact that the council’s revenue and tax collecting officers were completely unaware of the agreements for the leasing of the council’s reserves as it appears the Town Clerk operates in isolation of the council and beyond the scope of his Terms of Reference.
“He seemed to be doing the work of the Treasurer, Engineer and Human Resource Manager…It also appears that the Town Clerk’s office does most of the work which is to be carried out by the Treasurer’s Department. The tax collecting officer said that she is not empowered to speak to defaulting taxpayers, the Town Clerk does this function,” Kennard had noted.
While King has argued that he performs his function in keeping with the Municipal and District Council’s Act, Kennard claimed that he was deliberately misinterpreting the act “as a cover to act outside of the scrutiny required.”