Trotman backs Nagamootoo on Duncan’s reinstatement
One day after it was revealed that sacked General Manager of the Guyana Chronicle Newspaper, Sherod Duncan was reinstated by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Alliance For Change (AFC) Leader Raphael Trotman supported the move, saying that the dismissal was too harsh a penalty in the first instance.
Commenting on the issue, Trotman told Guyana Times on Wednesday that while it was for the Prime Minister to justify or clarify his decision to rescind Duncan’s dismissal, he did not believe that the Chronicle General Manager should have been fired in the first place over the breaches of financial regulations.
“I did personally feel that the process with Mr Duncan could’ve gone or should have gone another way, but it is for the Prime Minister to exactly say why he did what he did … I had seen the audit reports quite frankly and I thought that while there may have been some breaches, they were not breaches in terms of theft of monies. There might’ve been some circumvention of some systems and I thought Mr Duncan being off the job for several months, perhaps a reprimand or some form of discipline (could’ve been taken). I found that dismissal was the harsher side of the penalties,” Trotman stated.
In a letter dated May 31, 2019, Prime Minister Nagamootoo, an AFC Executive Member, “instructed” the then Chair of the Guyana National Newspaper Limited (GNNL), Geeta Chandan-Edmond, to rescind the decision taken by the Board two months ago to dismiss Duncan, also an AFC party member.
Back in April, Chandan-Edmond had broken a deadlock and voted to have Duncan dismissed following recommendations from an audit, which found 20 transactions in which he breached several financial regulations.
In a statement at the time, the GNNL Board had disclosed that one Director recommended one-month suspension and an extension of probation for Duncan while two other Directors recommended an extension in the probation period while three other Directors held the view that Duncan’s services should be terminated with immediate effect for gross misconduct.
It was noted that a vote was then called on the matter and there was a tie which Chandan-Edmond broke.
However, in the correspondence to the GNNL Chair, the Prime Minister, who has responsibility over State media, pointed out that he was informed by Directors that there was in fact no vote put to the table.
Calling the decision to fire Duncan “arbitrary, capricious, unlawful and in excess of the jurisdiction of the Board”, the Prime Minister further stated in the missive that the Chair sought to mislead his office into thinking that the Board made the decision.
In response to the Prime Minister’s correspondence, Chandan-Edmond submitted her resignation, telling Nagamootoo his statements were not only “insulting” to her but the other Board Directors who voted to have Duncan dismissed back in April.
Furthermore, she sought to remind him that Duncan was accused of financial impropriety and mismanagement, which warranted the involvement of the Auditor General. Pointing out that Duncan was afforded all tenets of natural justice including a Board hearing during which he was allowed to be accompanied by his lawyer, Chandan-Edmond contended that not only was the process that led to Duncan’s dismissal exceedingly thorough in terms of due process, but it came under the express jurisdiction of the Board of Directors.
Nagamootoo’s reversal of the Board’s decision has also resulted in at least two other Board members – Mervyn Williams and Hilbert Foster – resigning while Director Aaron Fraser has indicated that he too intended to follow suit.
The audit of the State newspaper’s operations from June 1, 2018 to September 10, 2018 found that tender rules were violated, services were procured without contracts and approvals were given for payments without the regular procedure of company stamp or signature.
There are over 20 transactions conducted under Duncan’s watch or by Duncan himself, which were in blatant violation of financial regulations.
Further, cash advances were given to Duncan to travel overseas, but he did not clear the amounts. It was also found that the company’s personnel policy and procedures manual were ignored during the recruitment, termination, and dismissal of employees.
Guyana Chronicle has a Management Tender Committee, which approves transactions ranging from $100,000 to $300,000 before payments are made. But during the stipulated time examined, no approval was given for nine such transactions valued at $1.6 million.
Duncan also took an overseas trip with the marketing coordinator for the resuscitation of the publication’s New York edition. This trip cost in excess of $736,028, but there was no approval for such an event and to date, no relevant documents were brought forward to support these expenditures, the audit found.