‘Abuse of office, dishonesty’ – COI recommends disciplinary action against Royston King
By Bibi Khatoon
The recently concluded Commission of Inquiry (COI) into City Hall has recommended disciplinary action against Town Clerk, Royston King for “gross misconduct, abuse of office, recklessness, dishonesty, conspiracy and misappropriation of funds.”
While the CoI discovered several cases which can lead to criminal charges, the Commission’s report, which was handed over to the Local Government Commission (LGC) on Friday, recommended a further Forensic Audit is conducted before criminal charges are laid against the defaulting officers.
“While it is the easiest of recommendation to make, this officer should be terminated, and criminal charges should be laid against him in respect of his actions… the SARA (State Assets Recovery Agency) and the Guyana Police Force should lead a joint probe to ascertain the relevant criminal charge(s) to be laid,” the report stated, as seen by News Room.
In the alternative, it was noted that the LGC can approach the Court to grant orders to trace the Town Clerk’s assets and at the same time freeze the assets.
The CoI found that the Town Clerk rented eight lands belonging to the council to friends, families and close associates of senior members of the Council, for far below par value and in some cases for no payment –actions the COI Chairman, Justice (rt’d) Cecil Kennard deemed “appalling to note that given the financial state of the Council.”
“It is absolute madness that lands were rented to business for no payment,” the report pointed out.
It further stated that the persons who appeared to be friends of the Town Clerk are also contractors of the Council.
Additionally, the CoI report noted that there was information about King’s involvement in the fake purchasing of properties which were unoccupied and owe rates and taxes.
This, it said, ought to be further investigated, and if it is found to be true, the relevant steps should be followed by the Council.
The City on Friday swore in a new batch of councillors to serve from January 2019. The list includes 21 APNU councillors, seven PPP/C councillors and two AFC councillors.
While the Council can reverse certain contracts, the Commission pointed out that this has to be done in accordance with section 93 of the Companies Act, which states that contracts can be set aside for the failure to disclose interest in same.
According to the report, it is not the first time the Town Clerk’s credibility is being questioned as documents show that he was written to about the quality of his work by former Town Clerks Beaulah Williams, and Yonette Pluck.
During the public hearings of the CoI, it was found that the Town Clerk leased a plot of land at Lombard Street, Georgetown to Quick Shipping Inc. even though the land belongs to the government’s privatisation unit – National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
However, the Commission recommended that “the question of the Town Clerk’s misrepresentation to the company has to be addressed by the company in a Court.”
The Commission also examined how the City Council dealt with a No-Confidence motion tabled against the Town Clerk in March 2016, by former Councilor, Sherod Duncan.
The motion alleged several cases of mismanagement of the Council’s funds but was thrown out by the Mayor, Patricia Chase-Green who was advised by King’s Lawyer, Maxwell Edwards.
Edwards also represented King at the CoI.
The Commission concluded that the motion “was not dealt with by the Council” and should be sent to the Local Government Commission for “for disciplinary action be taken against him for his alleged wrongdoings as stated in the motion.”
During her appearance at the CoI, Chase-Green argued that the motion was dealt with since a vote was taken before it was thrown out.
“It also appears as if there is collusion among the Mayor, the Town Clerk and the Chairman of the Finance and Human Resource Management Committees,” the report noted.
The Chairman of the Finance Committee is Councillor, Oscar Clarke who was voted in on Friday to serve another three years in that post.
According to the report, several other top officers of the Council will face consequences for dereliction of duty and other actions.
It was found that “the officers…acted in concert with decisions of the Town Clerk or Council even when these decisions were in contrast to their professional duty.”
Those persons are Acting Town Clerk, Sharon Harry-Munroe; City Engineer Colvern Venture and Chief Constable Andrew Foo for dereliction of duty and incompetence; Human Resources Manager, Paulette Braithwaite for incompetence and Acting City Engineer, Rasheed Kelman for conspiracy.
The CoI recommended that City Treasurer, Ron McCalmon proceed on early retirement. During the public hearings, the Commission heard that McCalmon has been on sick leave since March of 2018.
While the Commission’s report recommended that the City’s Internal Auditor, Omodele, Umojo-Newton face disciplinary action for incompetence and conspiracy, it was noted that “the Council (should) employ a qualified accounting personnel to hold the office of Internal Auditor.”
The Town Clerk remains on administrative leave.