By Feona Morrison
Declaring that the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) which recommended that Royston King be sacked as Town Clerk is null, void and of no legal effect,
Justice Simone Morris-Ramlall yesterday ruled that the Local Government Commission (LGC) acted unlawfully in dismissing him from the post.
According to King’s lawyers, Maxwell Edwards and Patrice Henry while the judge refused to grant an order reinstating him to the post, the judge’s rulings means that King remains Town Clerk with the status quo being of September 21, 2018 when he was ordered to proceed on administrative leave.
His lawyers said that King is still entitled to all the benefits that come with the post.
The Judge awarded costs to King in the sum of $200,000.
Reacting to the ruling, King told reporters, “I gave thanks to God and my lawyers whose advice I am being guided by and to all the people who cared and reached out to me during this hard time.”
Asked whether he would return to the post, King said, “I will be guided by the advice of my lawyers.”
He, nevertheless, stated he is very happy with the court ruling and has always exercised confidence in the court system.
“Today justice has been done and I have been vindicated,” King added. He says he now welcomes any lawful investigation the LGC wishes to undertake.
Following a CoI held from September 24 to November 30, 2018, and headed by retired Judge Cecil Kennard, King was cited for gross misconduct, abuse of office, recklessness, dishonesty, conspiracy, and misappropriation of funds. Among the recommendations made by the CoI was for King to be dismissed.
King was sent on administrative leave, and subsequently had his services terminated. In ruling that the setting up, investigations, findings and recommendations of the CoI are null, void and of no legal effect, Justice Morris-Ramlall held that the LGC had no authority under the law to delegate its investigatory powers to a CoI, which does not form part of the LGC or the local government body.
While the Judge said that the LGC is permitted under the relevant laws to delegate its investigatory powers, such powers have to be assigned to a body within the LGC. King’s lawyers had described Justice Kennard as a stranger since he is not a member of the Local government Organ, a staff or employee, as outlined in the Local Government Commission Act.
The Judge said that the LGC misconstrued itself when it formed the view that Sections 14 and 19 of the Local Government Commission Act and Article 79 of the Constitution of Guyana gave it the power to transfer its investigatory powers to an outside body. Section 14 of the Local Government Commission Act specifically deals with investigations by the commission.
Section 14 (1) states, “For the purpose of the exercise and discharge of its functions under this Act, the Commission shall have the power to initiate and conduct investigations into the activities of any local government organ including the power regarding staff referred to in Section 13 (2).”
That Section adds, “The Commission shall deal with all matters relating to staffing of local government organs and in particular shall- (a) be responsible for employment, transfer, discipline and dismissal of staff; and (b) approve of remuneration, superannuation, training, leave and promotion of staff.”
According to Section 19 of the said Act, “The Commission may delegate, in written form, to any local government organ authority to perform duties and discharge function on its behalf as it may determine.”
Article 78 of the Constitution which deals with local government elections provides that, “Parliament may make provisions for the election of members of local democratic organs (including the commencement of balloting before the day appointed for holding an election) and for all other matters relating to their membership, powers, duties, functions and responsibilities.”
Justice Morris-Ramlall held, “The intention of the Local Government Commission Act is clear. The respondent [the LGC] is permitted to delegate its powers but only within the local government system.”
She noted that the LGC acted blindly upon the recommendations of the CoI when it instituted disciplinary charges against King and later terminating his services. The Judge said that there was no evidence to show that the LGC conducted any independent investigations.
During the trial, lawyers for King have contended that the LGC dismissed their client without a hearing and that the Terms of Reference of the CoI had nothing to do with the recommendations. They had also argued that inadmissible hearsay evidence was accepted and admitted in the CoI which renders their client’s dismissal nugatory.
According to the lawyers, “The Local Government Commission in summarily dismissing (King) took no evidence, acted solely on an unauthorized CoI Report which criteria for hearsay irrelevant evidence was rampant, and consequently this decision was disguised, as if an opportunity was granted to facilitate a hearing, when in fact same is cosmetic, null, void and of no legal effect.”
In an affidavit, King said that he began working at age 24 with the M&CC permanently and continuously from 1989, as an Environmental Health Assistant, up until he became Press Officer, then later Public Relations Officer, and finally Town Clerk at the time of his summary dismissal.
He added, “My last appointment in the municipality was on July 14, 2015 in the capacity of Town Clerk for the city of Georgetown. While working in this capacity, many challenges would have confronted the Council and those which are relevant to my appointment. I would devise all legal and lawful methods to discharge my functions earnestly, conscientiously and sincerely in the best interest of the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown.”
King, through the affidavit, is adamant that he never acted unlawfully, illegally or criminally during his tenure as a serving member of the M&CC to attract the attention of the police or any disciplinary authority. He said that he was never questioned by the police concerning the discharge of his duties. He further says that he executed his responsibilities consistently with his mandate under Section 77 (1) of the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01 of the Laws of Guyana.
In the affidavit, King stated that he challenged the authenticity, validity and propriety as to the appointment of the CoI, its Chairman and its findings.
He added, “I attended the aforesaid Commission of Inquiry, under protest, since it was unlawfully appointed and in breach of the Local Government Commission Act (supra) Laws of Guyana.”
According to him, on January 7, 2019 he received another letter from LGC Chairman Mortimer Mingo under the heading ‘laying of complaints/disciplinary charges’. He recalled that immediately after receiving the letter, he contacted his lawyers and attended a meeting with them. He added that his lawyers prepared a letter dated January 8, 2019, which was addressed to the Chairman of the Local Government Commission.
At that time, King said his lawyer was an integral part of a team of lawyers in the No Confidence Motion constitutional matter, which was before the High Court. He also said that because of the magnitude, complexity and importance of that matter, its preparation and presentation precluded his lawyer from attending a January 11, 2019 meeting with the commission.
He said that this was communicated to the Commission and an extension of seven days was granted. He stated that within the stipulated period the said constitutional matter intensified, and despite his plea for a further date after a ruling was rendered in the matter, he was dismissed.
He said, too, “I pleaded with the Commission for another adjournment, and even cited the volume of charges which would have required several adjournments to conclusively conclude the meeting, but this necessary facility was promptly refused despite me having a lawyer on record.”
King stated that since his unlawful dismissal, he is embarrassed, unemployed and deprived of his pension rights. Further to this, he says that he is not a contracted employee and as such has a legitimate expectation to be treated fairly, equally and in conformity with Article 149A of the Constitution, otherwise his right to work will be violated.
It is his contention that the allegations leveled against him were criminal in nature, but unlike the universally unaccepted principle of equality, transparency and equity, the LGC acted as judge, jury and executioner in its own cause, as opposed to calling in the police and obtaining advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions, since state assets and monies were allegedly involved.
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