The Local Government Commission (LGC) has written to the Auditor General to conduct a forensic audit of the accounts of City Hall, as recommended by the recent Commission of Inquiry (CoI).
However, no efforts have yet been made to contact the police or the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), which had also been recommended by the CoI.
Speaking with reporters at the inauguration of the new council, LGC Chairman Mortimer Mingo noted that while a referral to SARA was recommended, the commission is intent on allowing the officers accused of wrongdoing, such as Town Clerk Royston King, to first defend themselves.
“That will follow the full deliberations of the recommendations and charges. In keeping with the rules of natural justice… each officer has a right to be heard. After we have heard from them, we will take a decision on what level of disciplinary action will be taken against those officers,” Mingo explained while stressing that the LGC is determined to ensure that any action it takes will stand scrutiny.
In this same vein, the LGC has taken a majority decision to bar Commission member Carol Sooba from the deliberations on the CoI due to conflict of interest.
“The position is a very simple one: Commissioner Sooba would’ve made representation to the CoI as it relates to an issue she would’ve had with the City Council alleging unlawful dismissal and nonpayment of her benefits. Since Commissioner Sooba’s issue is part of the recommendations, it would be wholly improper, a conflict, for Commissioner Sooba to sit to deliberate on those recommendations. Further, a part of the commissioner’s recommendations was that a forensic audit be done within a given period and on perusal of the time recommended for the audit, we noted that for a part of that period Commissioner Sooba was Town Clerk and again it was found that it would be improper for her to deliberate on the recommendations,” Mingo explained.
He stressed that the Commission will issue a statement to inform the public of its efforts in relation to the implementation of the 31 recommendations made by the CoI.
Mingo further indicated that four officers have been asked to appear before a disciplinary committee over the course of the next few weeks but stressed that the commission has set no timeline for its implementation of the CoI’s recommendations.
The report in question specifically identified as questionable the manner in which King leased lands and awarded contracts.
The lone Commissioner, retired judge Cecil 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, Ingrid 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 as 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.
“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 Assets 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,” he 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 and Kennard said it appeared that 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 Resources 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 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.”
The COI report was also critical of Deputy Town-Clerk Sharon Harry-Munroe, acting Deputy Town Clerk Sherry Jerrick Internal Auditor Omadele Newton, Chief Constable Andrew Foo, Personnel Officer Paulette Braithwaite and City Engineer Colvern Venture.