City Hall CoI…calls for criminal charges to be laidThe Mayor and City Council’s unbalanced and bankrupted condition is linked to corruption, incompetence and the embezzlement of resources with those in superiority being the central malefactors.This was the position shared by former presidential advisor Ramon Gaskin who submitted his witness statement and evidence before retired Justice Cecil Kennard at Wednesday’s Commission of Inquiry at the Critchlow Labour College on Woolford Avenue, Thomas Lands, Georgetown.“Mismanagement, corruption and incompetence and stealing… They’re too incompetent and unqualified… City Hall is bankrupt like the Berbice Bridge,” said the former consultant.Gaskin made these remarks based on his contact with employees of the Council in 2012, but also shared his views as an economist.In 2009, former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Office for Investment (GO-Invest), Keith Burrowes had carried out an extensive inquiry into the state of affairs at City Hall.This led to Gaskin’s appointment in May of 2012 to verify if the recommendations from the report were implemented. Upon investigating, it was found that none of these recommendations were applied to the operations of the local organ body.“He (Burrowes) did the inquiry for the City Council in 2009 and in 2012, he hired me to go and inquire if they had implemented any of his recommendations. I got the opportunity to go there… The recommendations of Burrowes were not implemented.”While that report was submitted the following June, the economist said he delved into other matters of the Council where astonishing financial procedures and other questionable incidents were unearthed. From those signals, he is of the belief that the Town Council has adequate revenues to sustain operations but it is being hindered by mishandling of funds.Being tasked to provide him with a list of outstanding revenues and taxes, staffersCity Treasurer John Douglasprovided documents which indicated that over $12 billion were owed from businesses and taxpayers.“They’re bankrupted now but that’s because of their own mismanagement of the financial affairs of the city… The amount owed to City Council at that time was $12 billion. It’s a confronted lie that they don’t have money. If they run the place properly, they will have enough money to do their work,” he said.Documents provided to the Commission revealed that on one occasion, a payment of $2,845,125 was made to an entity under the name MTM General Contraction and Services but the letterhead only had the company title with no address or contact number.A noted inscribed at the bottom of the letter was written by the then City Engineer, instructing that the cheque be written to a person instead.“No address, no telephone number, no nothing. The engineer is telling the chief accountant how to write this cheque in the name of this person in his own handwriting.”OveremploymentAnother issue which seemed baffling was the quantity of individuals that the Council employed, amounting to over 800. The doubled workforce causes a steep increase in the payroll and it is one which City Hall cannot sustain.“You have over 800 persons to pay every Friday. Right now the payroll is over $100 million per month to find for these people. Any time you got 800 people working in a place where you only need 300 and you have to find $100 million aEconomist Ramon Gaskin,month to pay them, then you’re in big trouble,” Gaskin advised.Under-qualified persons are also acquiring posts that do not suit their qualifications.One such instance is the appointment of the Internal Auditor, Omadeily Newton, who possesses only a Public Management Degree. For Gaskin, an auditor should have accounting qualifications and experience.“Auditing is part of the whole accountancy profession. To learn to do auditing, you have to learn accountancy.”Adding to that, the person should operate independently but Newton works from the Town Clerk’s Office which is extremely contradicting.One of Burrowes’ recommendations was for the establishment of an Internal Audit Department which never materialised. In the City Treasury Department, Gaskin is certain that a majority of the persons are not trained in accountancy.He pointed out that in the year 2000, the Auditor General at that time had stated that they hadn’t conducted any financial assessment of the Council in one decade. Following up in 2016, an announcement was made that no audits were orchestrated in 12 years.“The whole accountancy and books and ledger were wrong…”19 allowancesDuring 2012, 19 allowances were disbursed when the need arose and was distinct from the employees’ monthly salary. A list was tendered for evidence and coincides with one that was submitted by the Audit Office of Guyana.The stipends included acting, cashier, clothing, commuted overtime, double-time, duty, entertainment, honour, housing, increment on salary, laundry, leave passage, meals, overtime, premium, responsibility, risk allowance and travelling, retroactive payments and miscellaneous.“They had 19 different types of allowances on top of your salary. Isn’t that a nice place to work? By now, they might have more than 19.”While the Town Clerk Royston King is considered “the epicenter” of corruption and has been “getting the brunt of the “attack”, Gaskin posited that the abuse of power has led to several violations of the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01.In his final recommendation, Gaskin called for criminal charges to be laid after the probe against those persons who are guilty of any offences while on duty at the Georgetown Town Council, as well as a complete overhaul of its management body.