Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 February 2023, 16:15 by Denis Chabrol
The A Partnership for National Unity councillors on the Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) Council on Tuesday approved a no-confidence motion against Regional Executive Officer (REO) for Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), Donald Gajraj, citing his alleged maladministration and poor accountability.
That motion came in the wake of the physical altercation between him and Regional Chairman Daniel Seeram on 22nd February – the eve of Republic Day over whether Alliance For Change (AFC) member Catherine Hughes should have been allowed to speak. In fact, one of the whereas clauses alleges that Mr Gajraj “physically assaulted the duly elected Regional Chairman of the Demerara/Mahaica Region (Region #4) after the Regional Chairman delivered his brief remarks and invited one of the four Honourable Members of Parliament to also deliver brief remarks.”
Mr Seeram has since reported the incident to police.
The People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPPC) Councillors followed Mr Gajraj in walking out of the Council meeting. At that juncture, several APNU Councillors got up, banged the table and chanted vociferously “Gajraj got to go”, “Gajraj got to go”. Mr Gajraj is an officer appointed by the Central Government while the Councillors are elected officials.
Though Mr Gajraj walked out of the meeting, a parliamentary expert said the meeting would still be valid once there was a quorum.
For his part, the Regional Chairman said the passage of the motion was not in violation of the rules. “None of them had any objection to suspending the Standing Order to allow the reading of the motions. The REO didn’t have anything until Councillor Hazel Pyle started to read the motion and then he walked out afterwards… Everything was done legally at this Council,” Mr Seeram said.
The motion, which was tabled by APNU Councillor Hazel Pyle-Lewis, was approved by 12 APNU councillors. Although AFC Councillor Joseph De Nobrega seconded the motion, he abstained when it was put to the vote. AFC Councillor Neilsen Mc Kenzie spoke on the motion but left the room before the vote was taken.
A source said the AFC had wanted to amend the no-confidence motion to demand that the REO publicly apologise to opposition APNU+AFC parliamentarian Catherine Hughes and request that she be the main speaker at Guyana’s independence anniversary flag raising on May 26, 2023.
Before the no-confidence motion was tabled, Ms Pyle-Lewis successfully moved a motion to suspend the standing orders to discuss the disagreement between the Regional Chairman and the REO. Mr Gajraj objected but Councillor Pyle-Lewis insisted that it was because the incident was in the public domain locally and internationally.
Mr Seeram recused himself from dealing with the motion because it concerned him and he handed over the meeting to the Regional Vice Chairman Samuel Sandy.
Given an opportunity to speak, Mr Gajraj said the incident was between the Regional Chairman and the Regional Executive Officer, who was the chairman of the Republic Anniversary regional flag raising ceremony on February 23. “I did not stand there as the clerk-of-council. It was not a council meeting,” he said. The REO also said any motion being taken before the Council must pass through the clerk-of-council at least 96 hours before. “That has not been done. I would not stand or sit here with something as false as that or take place in my presence and if it continues, I will leave,” he said.
Regional Deputy Vice Chairman Sandy, however, cautioned the REO against discussing the motion. “It is premature for you to speak on the content of the motion and to even speak of the motion and it has not been presented,” Mr Sandy said. After Mr Gajraj said he was referring to the notice of the motion, Mr Sandy said there were motions that could be raised on the floor, based on parliamentary standing orders, especially if they deal with matters of national importance.
The REO was blocked by the Regional Vice Chairman from speaking further but the former said there were issues like that before and that Mr Sandy should chair the meeting fairly. Mr Sandy accused the clerk -of-council of disobeying his instructions. “You are being insubordinate”, said Mr Sandy whose charge was quickly rebuffed by Mr Gajraj. “As the clerk of council, I am not insubordinate.”
Councillor Pyle-Lewis’ motion also cites the Regional Executive Officer for arbitrarily and single-handedly changing the National and Other Events committee’s approved cultural programme without the knowledge or guidance of the committee and self-appointed himself as the sessional chair for the cultural programme unknowing to the committee.
The motion states that the Clerk of Council defiantly refuses to arrange Regional Administrative Committee meetings as directed by the Council, willfully refuses to schedule a meeting of the Senior Administrative Officers of the Council every Monday as directed by Council, willfully refuses to submit requests for virements and program changes to the Regional Finance Committee as directed by council, and refuses to present detailed financial reports of Agency 74 in accordance with council directives.
Ms Pyle-Lewis said the Region Four Council’s decision-making process was hamstrung. “This body does not have access to information. How can a council function and achieve what it sets out without information? We believe that seeing those contracts, we would be able to give guidance, we would be able to know who are the contractors, who are the beneficiaries so that we can check and see the type and the substance of the work that is being done in the region or we would be able to say something as it relates to the Works Committee,” she said.
Further the no-confidence motion was tabled because Mr Gajraj, as Clerk of Council allegedly refuses to send the Bill of Quantities, Contract Copies, and Weekly Progress Reports to the Works Committee as directed by Council, approves payments to contractors without Works Committee review, and spends the Chairman’s budget (6211) contrary to the Chairman’s and Council’s request, regularly absent from official/ statutory Council meetings the sessional chair for the cultural programme unknowing to the committee. he
Councillor Mc Kenzie said the REO needed to be held accountable, for instance, for the GY$9 billion that was spent last year. “All you get is a summary,” he said, adding that Mr Gajraj is inaccessible and does not take appointments. “I’m not interested in attacking the REO. I am interested in exposing the truth so that we’ll have competence in this region because if we have competent leadership at the REO level and administrative level, we’ll have competence in the delivery of services across Region Four,” he said.