Conflict of interest
June 20, 2003
The curious tale of two of the Mayor and City Council’s (M&CC) building inspectors and a four-storey structure situated at Cummings and Robb Streets was one of the subjects of this week’s City Council Round-Up by Cecil Griffith. According to Mr Griffith, the situation with regard to breaches of the building bye-laws, of which this case was one, prompted Mayor Hamilton Green to observe during a council debate, “Too much is happening in the city without our taking notice... “
Any stranger recently landed on these shores and unfamiliar with the peculiarities of municipal government in our capital might be forgiven for thinking this an extraordinary statement to be issuing from Georgetown’s Chief Citizen. Unfortunately, however, the denizens of the city have become all too accustomed to stories of blatant disregard for the municipality’s regulations, and the total incapacity of officialdom to do anything about it.
Having said that, however, even by the none-too-exacting standards of the M&CC, the case of the Cummings and Robb Streets building seems egregious. Two building inspectors, it was reported, had been involved: one of them drew the plan for the edifice, and the other signed the plan. Mr Griffith wrote that the charges against the one whose signature was on the drawings included, “...omission of significant measurements in the plan, the unauthorized waiving of boundaries between two lots and a variation for the submitted plan...”
However, it was not even these shortcomings which represented the worst part of the story. It was that the inspector had been paid for the plan, and had confessed that he was unaware that he should not have signed it at all, given his position as building inspector for the area. In the case of the inspector who had actually drawn the plan, Mr Griffith related how he had never visited the site but had been given a sketch of what he was to draft by the one who had signed it, and who had been designated “the project owner.” The signatory has now been dismissed for misleading City Engineer Cephas James.
Giving some background to the incident, the columnist referred to a report by the late architect Mr Charles Liburd, who had investigated the City Engineer’s Department four years ago, and had recommended an immediate cessation of the practice whereby building inspectors drew up plans for buildings to be constructed within the city boundaries. Apparently the report had commented on the fact that some inspectors had been guaranteeing owners that a plan would be approved once they had drafted it. Mr Griffith said that this report had cost the council some $300,000, but its recommendations notwithstanding, there had been no changes where the practices of the inspectorate were concerned.
That the dismissed building inspector could actually be unaware of the conflict of interest situation in which he had placed himself strains credibility. How is it possible that it did not occur to him that he could not be an active party to the drawing up of a plan for a structure, and at the same time be charged with ensuring that that same structure was in compliance with the city bye-laws? Even more of a strain on the credibility, however, is the fact that after the general problem had been identified by Mr Liburd four years ago, absolutely nothing was done by the municipal powers-that-be to rectify it.
Mr Griffith had another strain on the credibility to add to the list: he had raised the matter of the building at Cummings and Robb Streets in an earlier column, and yet the owners of the property had still been allowed to continue with the construction unknown to the City Engineer’s Department.
What in the name of goodness is going on? Why are ratepayers providing the means to pay the wages and salaries of officials who are simply not doing their job, and to all appearances have little concept of what that job entails? Just what is the Mayor and City Council proposing to do about the situation? And exactly what is the Mayor and City Council proposing to do about what seems to be an illegal structure at the corner of Cummings and Robb Streets? The citizens of the capital are waiting to hear.