Not the only rapscallion

Letters to the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
October 23, 1999

YOUR editorial `The rubbish crisis in the city' (99/10/16), is rather myopic and lacking of careful analysis.

It failed to deal with the causative factors that have for some time now afflicted the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown.

Whatever may be our defects, we are certainly not the only rapscallion as the article implies.

The cost to provide a satisfactory service to Georgetown is far in excess of existing collectable taxes. This is not the figment of ours.

The Interim Management Committee (IMC) appointed by the administration, recognised after only a few weeks that the existing revenue base needed to be broadened to effectively manage the city. The IMC received an injection of money, material and manpower in excess of $60M for a clean up campaign.

When the democratically elected council took office six months later, the same call for an expansion of our revenue base was made. The exact proposals of the IMC were restated confidently as the original idea came from a body appointed by the administration.

To this day, in spite of earnest begging and pleas, no positive response has come from the ministry responsible.

In these circumstances, if any group of taxpayers fail to honour their legal and statutory obligations, there will be serious difficulties.

We are responsible for the repairs and maintenance of 160 miles of roads now used without let or hindrance by heavy single-axle vehicles which destroy the fragile surface of most city roads; 800 miles of concrete and earthen drains; 12 outfall channels; bridges; parapets and verges; collection and disposal of 150-odd tons of waste, daily, from citizens, and businesses inside, and, we wish to emphasise outside of the boundaries of Georgetown.

We are also responsible for street lighting; public parks and open spaces; five municipal markets; management of the building code; maternal and child welfare; public health; a constabulary; control of animals and a cemetery that caters for all.

Our main ports are in Georgetown and almost every citizen benefits from these services.

Early last year, during consultations we had with government officers, civil society and the business sector, it was made clear that our planned programme demanded that we receive not only outstanding sums owed for several years, but current taxes, failing which we would face a severe financial difficulty.

Further, we demonstrated faith by submitting to the importuning of the responsible minister and extended the period of amnesty, at the time assumed to allow the government to liquidate their arrears to us before year end. The taxes were not paid.

The Mayor was informed that the Head of State and Cabinet had issued a directive to all government agencies to settle their accounts at City Hall.

After a meeting where the gravity of our situation was made known to the most senior state functionaries, within 36 hours the Office of the President paid $2M for State House, Red House and the Public Service Ministry building.

The situation escalated to the point where our Public Health Department became concerned and advised that it would be irresponsible for the council to allow its markets to remain open because of possible contamination. This was occasioned by the withdrawal of the contractors who collect garbage.

Since then, the Ministry of Transport has paid $89M and $6M was received from the Ministry of Legal Affairs for some judicial buildings. These are all part payments and according to our records, there is still an outstanding balance of $503M from government property.

We agree that the city seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis. This is the manifest result of the apparent reluctance of those concerned to understand the dilemma of this municipality and offer the much needed cooperation we've sought over the years.

The Mayor has done all things possible to seek a modus vivendi with the government, but to no apparent avail.

Moreover, the government collects an environmental tax but this is not shared with the City Council, which is forced to collect 150 tons of garbage daily, including an abundance of plastic, used tyres and other non biodegradable materials.

These are all disposed at a defective landfill site off Nelson Mandela Avenue.

You seem to be contradicting yourself on the closure of the Stabroek Market for urgent repairs. In a previous editorial you took credit for influencing the closure of the market and in this editorial, in an apparent rush to cast blame, the writer finds the closure of the market to be a fiasco rather than a prudent and responsible action by the council to prevent a catastrophe.

The decision to import uniforms was arrived at because over recent years we had difficulty monitoring the quality of materials supplied by local contractors for the tunics. Citizens would recall the shabby appearance of our constabulary for all of 1997 and 1998.

Buying direct avoided the local middle men mark-ups on the cloth, sometimes of inferior quality. All other uniform items imported are not available locally - belts, whistles, boots, emblems and hats and the cloth, so why this storm in a teacup?

Further, the character and structure of the council demand that all areas of our responsibility are treated with the same level of importance, as they are inter-linked to provide a complete range of service to the city. Ensuring the integrity and morale of our constabulary, and workers' remuneration, must be given equal attention, as road repairs and drainage must be at the same level of priority with garbage collection and managing our avenues.

To advance an argument that those sums used to purchase uniforms could have been used otherwise is therefore absurd.

In the circumstances, we fail to see the relevance of the comment on prioritising our services. Further, the uniforms were ordered since January and were budgeted for in this year's municipal estimates.

The difficulty with the supply of a portion of the uniforms ordered is being actively pursued.

Some street vendors have always shown a tendency of non-compliance with the by-laws and are now seeking and obtaining help from the courts in the form of injunctions.

In the meantime, the city and its populace continue to suffer from embarrassment, ugliness and indecency, and the council's hands remain tied behind its back to effect its statutory responsibility in that section. This is unfair and wrong but what more can we do in the circumstances?

The vendor phenomenon is a complex national socio-economic question that can only be solved if we see it as such and not as a City Council problem to be solved either by brutal or capricious actions.

An IDB consultant looked at the problem, and recommendations exist, but cannot be put in place alone by the City Council.

Finally, at a meeting on September 20, 1999, with representatives of the private sector, which the Minister of Health and Labour attended, another plea was made for help to bolster the management of the Treasurer's Department.

However, it appears that everywhere there is a paucity of skills and we have, so far, not received the cooperation sought in earnest.


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