By Zena Henry
Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang has recused himself from hearing a prerogative writ (quo warranto) filed by a lawyer for the newly voted-in Town Clerk (ag) Royston King, which seeks to challenge the legitimacy of government-imposed Town Clerk (ag) Carol Sooba.
When the matter was heard for the first time mid-morning yesterday, the Chief Justice (CJ) referred the matter to Justice Diana Insanally.
The CJ had ordered in early April that the Minister of Local Government has no power to appoint Local Government Officers; which included Sooba in the capacity of Town Clerk. He ordered, however, that she would remain the de facto Town Clerk in the absence of the Local Government Commission, which deals with the hiring and firing of local government organ staffers.
The Chief Justice mentioned that it would take a quo warranto to challenge Sooba’s imposition. This document would order her to show what authority she has for exercising some right or power being claimed; in other words, ‘what warrants’ her appointment.
The quo warranto was filed Tuesday morning by Attorney Nigel Hughes and served on the ousted Town Clerk (ag) Carol Sooba. Subsequently, Sooba filed an application in the High Court asking the CJ to quash the decision by the Mayor and Councillors who voted to remove her as Town Clerk and replace her with King. The application also asked that King not be allowed to perform any Town Clerk duties among other things.
Sooba’s application was heard the next day (Wednesday) and the CJ granted the request in the interim that the Mayor and City Councillors give reason and authority for their decision to have King replace Sooba.
Apart from the High Court matters, the Local Government Ministry, Sooba and King had expressed dissatisfaction with the CJ’s April ruling, and two separate matters are before the Court of Appeal challenging his decision.
When the matter for the Local Government Ministry and Sooba was heard by Justice Yonette Cummings yesterday morning, lawyers for the two parties were given leave for an affidavit in reply. King’s team was last week granted leave for their affidavit in answer and that was submitted.
Within that appeal, Sooba’s lawyers have also filed for a stay of execution against the CJ’s ruling to have her function as a de facto Town Clerk. It is asking that the court put a hold on the CJ’s April ruling; the stay would return her as ‘official’ Town Clerk. Attorney Roysdale Forde is representing Sooba, and Adrian Smith, in association with the Attorney General Anil Nandlall, is for the Local Government Ministry. The matter will continue next Thursday.
Currently City Hall has two Town Clerks acting; one voted-in by the Mayor and City Councillors of Georgetown, Royston King, and the other appointed by former Local Government Minister Ganga Persaud. More than a year ago the Minister had appointed Sooba who was soon rejected by city Mayor and Councillors. They claimed that she refused to adhere to the decisions of the Council and act accordingly as the secretary to the body.
Several calls were made to have her removed from the post, and Minister within the Local Government Ministry, Norman Whittaker convened an interview panel to have a suitably qualified person chosen to assume the post since, apart from Sooba’s defiance, the Council is adamant that she is “unqualified and incompetent”.
However, despite the decision of the interview panel which advised that Sooba was the least qualified and least suitable for the post, Whittaker went ahead to appoint her as the substantive Town Clerk. King who was a candidate for the post then approached the court to quash the Minister’s decision and show grounds for bypassing the advice of the interview panel and ignoring that applicants had a legitimate expectation that after the interview the most suitable and qualified person would be chosen.
While the CJ in his ruling on this case dismissed ‘legitimate expectation’ since the Minister did not submit his power to the
panel and was not obligated to take their advice, it was mentioned that the Minister himself had no power to appoint Sooba in the first place. The Councillors, under various sections of the Municipal and District Councils Act 28:01, believe that they are authorized to vote out Sooba and vote in a replacement, hence King’s appointment.
According to the Constitution, the Local Government Commission is authorized to hire, discipline and fire local government staffers. It came into law in 1969 but never became active. While various sectors of society have called for the Commission and Local Government Elections, the government has argued that Wednesday’s High Court order has quashed all decisions voted for by the Council until they can show authority for their decisions. This matter will also be called next Thursday.
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