Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the operations of City Hall, Retired Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Cecil Kennard yesterday rejected an application from Town Clerk Royston King which challenged the validity of the ongoing probe.
The ruling paved the way for King to commence his long-anticipated testimony before the CoI.
“I have come to the conclusion that this Commission of Inquiry was properly set up and the inquiry will now continue,” Justice Kennard stated.
Further, Justice Kennard told King that he has nothing to fear, and that he (Kennard) was only seeking the truth to be able to make effective recommendations to the Local Government Commission (LGC).
Justice Kennard made the ruling after listening to legal arguments put forward by King’s legal representative, Maxwell Edwards, along with opposing arguments from Everton Lammy-Singh, Counsel for the Commission.
King was summoned to appear before the CoI yesterday, but when the proceedings commenced at about 11:30 a.m. at the Critchlow Labour College, Edwards started by first waving a copy of the Kaieteur News of October 26.
He questioned whether King would get a fair hearing and pointed to the Kaieteur News headline, “King instructed staffer to remove documents from Council archives – CoI probes Cover-up’. He questioned why the CoI was looking into historical records.
A heated exchange ensued. At one point during the arguments, an orderly told Edwards to lower his voice, but Edwards said he would not take such an instruction from an orderly. Justice Kennard stated that the KN report detailed evidence presented to the CoI and that the Commission has no control over what is presented by the press.
Edwards then moved to address an affidavit submitted by King which challenged the legality of the CoI being established by the LGC. According to Edwards, Section 14(1) of the LGC Act stipulates that the LGC itself should conduct the CoI.
Further, Edwards argued that Chapter 28:01 Municipal and District Councils Act, the Minister of Communities is empowered to undertake the CoI and under the CoI Act, the President could appoint a CoI. He stated that the current CoI is a nullity, because it was not set up by the President or the Minister. Edwards said that the LGC could not delegate the holding of such a CoI either.
Lammy-Singh in his response following a two-hour recess, argued that the CoI was properly established under the LGC Act.
Justice Kennard ruled that the magnitude of such an investigation is to be undertaken by a trained legal person. He stated that one would have to adopt a realistic approach. According to Justice Kennard, the position taken that the CoI cannot delegate is a narrow view.
“Having regard of the magnitude of the task and the various complaints brought to the attention of the Local Government Commission, I would say it is commendable on the part of the Commission to set up this inquiry…One has to apply a commonsense approach in interpreting legislation,” Justice Kennard asserted.
Edwards said that King will give evidence to the Commission under protest.
King, 53, joined the employ of the City Council in 1989 as a public health officer in his 20s. In the early stages of his testimony, King admitted that he was ‘painfully aware of the poor storage of municipal records’, pointing out that monies had been budgeted for the establishment of a documentation centre which would accommodate a library and archives. He blamed the state of affairs on the lack of finances and human resources.
The records are currently held at the City Constabulary Training School on Water Street. Justice Kennard visited the facility and he shared that the building was not a proper storage for the documents.
King stated that there are considerations as to whether to repair the building and rent it to private interests. He also provided information on the restoration plans for City Hall, which is estimated to cost US$4.5M. King stated that there are no funds available to undertake the project and that lobbying had started.
King, who was appointed Town Clerk on July 14, 2015, is expected to continue his testimony on Friday, addressing more controversial issues relating to contracts, land leases and the no confidence motion which was brought against him.
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