City officers question Inquiry Commission's legitimacy
By Nigel Williams
July 1, 2004
Senior officers of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) say they will not participate in the Commission of Inquiry into the operations of the City Engineer's Department if the procedures outlined in law are not followed.
Two senior officers have chided the Ministry of Local Government for conducting the inquiry in an ad hoc manner and blame it and the two-member commission for the poor turnout and embarrassment the inquiry has seen so far.
Since its commencement two weeks ago, no one has turned up to testify and on Monday a very senior officer at City Hall refused to appear before the commission even though the person received an invitation.
Moreover there was only one public notice about the inquiry in the Guyana Chronicle. One officer said the commission's public relations strategy was very weak noting that the public is being made aware of the inquiry only through reports in the press highlighting its failure to get started.
According to the officer, there was no proper arrangement with regard to seating accommodation which would have been the responsibility of the council if the procedures were followed.
The officer said it was a very disturbing trend that everyone was violating established city by-laws and some persons were actually trying to flout the council's principles and still expected it to co-operate with them.
"We don't know where this inquiry will lead and we don't have any information on this matter, hence we will stay far until the procedures are followed," one of the officers who requested anonymity told Stabroek News.
Contacted on the matter, Chairman of the commission, Bernard Carter told this newspaper that he had received a letter from City Hall raising the above-mentioned issues. He said the letter has since been handed to the Ministry which will respond in the next couple of days.
The Ministry had written to the M&CC indicating its intention to conduct the inquiry according to the Eighth Schedule of the Municipal and District Councils Act.
However, the city officials contend that there are serious procedural errors in the manner in which requests were made for officers to appear before the commission.
A similarly described investigation of the City Engineer's Department was conducted in 2000 by Charles Liburd. At least one officer is querying whether the present commission which is being chaired by Carter, a procurement officer within the Ministry of Agriculture, will be a continuation of the Liburd inquiry or an entirely new probe.
The notice sent to the M&CC for the new probe did not indicate whether it would be a continuation and this has been causing some worry at City Hall.
Up to yesterday Carter was still finding it difficult, despite inquiries from the administration to locate a copy of the Liburd report. Stabroek News understands that copies were handed over to the council and its contents debated but the recommendations advanced in the report and accepted by the council were never implemented. One recommendation dealt with the practice of building inspectors getting involved in the drawing of plans for buildings and other structures which have to be approved by the department.
Stabroek News understands that the Town Clerk, Beulah Williams, was summoned to appear before the commission on Monday, but instead she wrote complaining that the letter sent to her was on the official letterhead of the Ministry of Agriculture. She said it was not clear to her whether the Ministry of Agriculture had anything to do with the inquiry or it was only that the letterhead was being used for the purposes of the probe. According to Williams, if the latter is the case then there is likely to be a serious problem as this is not in harmony with the Municipal and District Councils Act Chapter 28:01 which indicated that the commission must have its own letterhead and be gazetted.
Stabroek News was told that Williams has also requested the terms of reference of the commission and the date the inquiry was gazetted to give her sufficient time and adequate preparation for the anticipated sessions.
City Engineer, Cephas James also in a letter to Williams dated June 18 said the Liburd inquiry had to do with one aspect of the general operation of the City Engineer's Department and that it should not be construed that it was the entire department that was under investigation. James said in the letter that having regard for the commission and as a matter of professional principle it must be considered whether the character and nature of the inquiry is confined to one aspect of the work of the department or to the entire section.
James demanded to know what was the council's decision on the inquiry, the terms of reference of the commission and also the date the inquiry was gazetted.