Vision needed for the city

Stabroek News
April 19, 1999

Just prior to the hubbub created by the National Budget, another important financial document - for the city of Georgetown - was presented to much less fanfare.

The Mayor and City Council on March 16 unveiled a budget for $1.6B which is projected to finance the upkeep of the city and small capital ventures for this year.

As the year 2000 approaches, monumental challenges continue to face the capital city without a national consensus on how its future should be secured.

Politics aside, as the only city in the country, the capital of Guyana and the seat of the government it would not be unexpected that Georgetown would be the sole focus of a comprehensive project financed by the state or in tandem with some international donor. There is no such specifically focused project though elements of the urban rehabilitation programme and water schemes are tackling components of Georgetown's most dire needs.

In all of the debate about boosting Guyana's productivity, increasing exports, expanding tourism and attracting more investors there is often very little consideration of the role that the capital city can play in this. In essence, Georgetown is the trademark of Guyana and what it stands for and is the keeper of the eternal flame of the country's aspirations. It should, therefore, rank quite high on the order of priorities for renewal.

Given the economic strait-jacket that the country has found itself strapped into, it doesn't seem likely that Georgetown will benefit from a massive infusion of capital this year.

However, there is time for the government and all concerned to begin assembling the bases to catapult Georgetown into the 21st century.

Georgetown desperately needs three things at the moment: good management, a sound financial base and a long-term plan that cuts across political boundaries and is integrated with the economic thrust of the country.

Over the last three decades or so, management of the city by political types has seen a progressive deterioration in its fortunes and a severe lack of good managers. Stewardship of Georgetown should be taken out of the hands of the politicians and firmly planted in the domain of competent managers.

The financial foundation of the city has also been suspect with the inflationary erosion of many of its customary tarrifs and poor rates and taxes collection. The unchecked expansion of the city and rural to urban migration have also placed tremendous burdens on its purse.

More fundamental has been the absence of a grand plan for the city that takes account of what it should look like in 10 or 20 years and what planning must be put in place for this.

Amid the wreckage of the intractable politics of the country, life goes on and the fate of the city is one that requires each sector of society to contribute.

The year 2000 should be a marker around which decision makers realise that much more thought and coordination have to be employed in planning for Georgetown and not just trite remarks about restoring it to its long lost status as the `Garden City'.

As is evidenced by this last budget, the tripartite council that presides over the city has been unable to ignite deliberation and innovative action on the future of Georgetown. Too often the city `fathers and mothers' have been sidetracked by trivialities such as the heifer controversy, theft of a cellular phone, bickering between the three factions on the council and a host of other antics befitting low comedy.

Central government, local government and civil society should begin fashioning a process for the orderly development and financing of the city. There are numerous issues such as drainage, roads, refuse collection and disposal, lesiure and recreation centres, zoning, preservation of the style of the city, markets and greater financial autonomy.