Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC) Raphael Trotman has backed the move by Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo to rehire the party’s Region Four Chairman, Sherod Duncan, as General Manager of the Guyana Chronicle newspaper, even though he was found culpable of a number of financial irregularities.
“I did personally feel that the process with Mr Duncan could’ve gone or should have gone another way…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,” Trotman told reporters yesterday.
He added that: “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.”
Nonetheless, the AFC Leader said the Prime Minister – who has responsibility for State media – has to say why “he did what he did”.
In April, the Board of Directors of the Guyana National Newspapers Limited (GGNL) – the publishers of the Guyana Chronicle newspaper – voted to dismiss Duncan who was cited in an audit report of being culpable of several financial irregularities during his probationary period at the entity.
But, in a letter dated May 31, 2019, the Prime Minister an AFC Executive Member, “instructed” the then Chair Geeta Chandan-Edmond to rescind the decision to dismiss Duncan.
Nagamootoo further called the decision to fire Duncan as “arbitrary, capricious, unlawful and in excess of the jurisdiction of the Board” and he even accused the Chairperson of “misleading” him on the matter. Nagamootoo argued that there was no actual vote to dismiss Duncan.
But Chandan-Edmond fired back, calling out the Prime Minister for insulting the integrity of the Board and undermining the professionalism of those Directors who voted to dismiss Duncan.
She explained that due process was followed and minutes of the meeting clearly prove that the decision to terminate the services of Duncan was done through a majority vote.
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.
In one instance, Duncan 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.