Royston King has been fired from the post of Town Clerk and the Local Government Commission (LGC) has asked the police and the Auditor General to investigate his tenure as chief administrative officer of the Georgetown City Council.
Speaking with Stabroek News yesterday, LGC Vice-Chairman Andrew Garnett explained that King was dismissed via letter, dated Wednesday, January 23rd, which was successfully delivered on Thursday. He said the commission cited gross misconduct, which King was accused of by a recent inquiry, as the reason for his dismissal.
Stabroek News attempted to contact King for a response but up to press time, he could not be reached.
LGC Chairman Mortimer Mingo, in an invited comment, said the decision to terminate King’s services was a “unanimous decision of the Commission.” He added that the embattled Town Clerk offered no defence to the charges when he appeared at a disciplinary hearing on January 12th.
The commissioners also indicated that Auditor General Deodat Sharma has been invited to conduct a forensic audit of the council’s finances and Commissioner of Police Leslie James has been contacted about beginning criminal investigations.
“The Police Commissioner has indicated that the Deputy Commissioner, Law Enforcement, has been given responsibility to conduct a criminal investigation into matters identified,” Garnett indicated, while Mingo said that Sharma has acknowledged receipt of the invitation and is set to meet with the LGC about the way forward.
Disciplinary action against King, a forensic audit and criminal investigation are three of the 31 recommendations made by retired Justice Cecil Kennard, who conducted a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the financial affairs of City Hall.
Kennard told Stabroek News yesterday that he was pleased that the commission was taking action on his recommendations.
“They have not communicated their decisions to me and I don’t expect to deal with them [the recommendations] all at once but to not act would’ve been disappointing. You can’t spend all the money they spent and not act,” he said.
As part of his findings, Kennard had charged King with gross misconduct, abuse of office, recklessness, and conspiracy, among other things. The report, submitted on November 30th last year, 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, Ingrid and Brian Chase, who were embroiled in a land saga with the Town Clerk, and friends of the Town Clerk and the Mayor.”
“It is appalling to note that given the financial state of the council, lands were rented to friends of the Town Clerk for far below par value and in some cases for no payment. It is absolute madness that lands were rented to business for no payment,” Kennard said.
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.
King, who was sent on administrative leave to facilitate the CoI, had testified before the CoI and argued that he performed his function in keeping with the Municipal and District Council’s Act but Kennard countered that he was deliberately misinterpreting the Act “as a cover to act outside of the scrutiny required.”
Before being appointed Town Clerk in June of 2015, King served as Public Relations Officer of the council for 20 years following a promotion from the post of environmental officer. The CoI noted that it had seen documents proving that King had been written to about the quality of his work by former Town Clerks Beaulah Williams and Yonette Pluck.
Kennard, however, declined to recommend that King be dismissed, noting that while it was the easiest of recommendations to make, it would be better for the State Assets Recovery Agency and the Guyana Police Force to lead a joint probe to ascertain the relevant criminal charge(s) to be laid.
“In the alternative there are civil remedies. The LGC can approach the Court to grant orders to trace his assets and at the same time freeze same,” the retired Judge advised.
The 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.
Each of these officers have been invited to defend themselves against charges ranging from incompetence to conspiracy.
Mingo noted that Chief Constable Foo has already appeared with his lawyer and provided a written response to the charges of dereliction of duty and incompetence.
“His lawyer requested more information and indicated that on or before January 31, a further response would be provided if necessary,” he explained.