Cabinet orders ministries to pay city debts

Stabroek News
October 2, 1999

Government ministries which owe taxes to the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) have received orders from Cabinet to make available all funds which have been budgeted for these expenses to the Council. The order, announced yesterday by Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, has broad implications for the M&CC, which only two days ago warned that a shortage of revenue was forcing it to halt garbage collection.

Speaking at his fortnightly press briefing at the Guyana Television (GTV) Studios, Luncheon acknowledged that responsibility for the Council's current economic crisis had been laid squarely at the feet of the administration which reportedly owes the Council over $500 million.

As such, he said ministries had been authorised to honour their obligations, in an attempt by the administration to join forces with those who have outstanding liabilities to get on top of the current financial crunch facing the Council.

Luncheon charged that this was despite these Ministries not having received any demand notices from the Council, a claim which Mayor Hamilton Green says is just "not true".

Speaking via telephone yesterday, Mayor Green noted that the M&CC had done everything feasible to get Government to pay the sum owed. He reported that the M&CC had sent notices to several Ministries, among them the Ministries of Culture, Education and Home Affairs and branches thereof.

He conceded that the City Council had problems getting notices to the various ministries, given that some departments close and ownership of the buildings often change, but he pointed out that the most recent notices had been sent directly to the permanent secretaries of the various ministries.

The mayor also disputed another of Luncheon's contentions that there was no agreement between the M&CC and government as to what was actually owed by these ministries.

According to Green, as recently as four weeks ago, a joint M&CC\government committee carried out a survey and completed a report on at least 50% of the amounts owed to the council.

Asked about his reaction to the news of the impending pay out, the mayor expressed cautious optimism but noted that the M&CC could not keep relying on promises.

According to Green, as soon as these monies are received they will be directed to priority projects, among them the payment of its garbage collection contractors, the majority of whom have withdrawn their services over the $15 million owed to them by the City Council.

Commenting on the timing of Luncheon's announcement, Green pointed out that he understood that President Bharrat Jagdeo, in both his present capacity and as Minister of Finance had previously directed that these funds be paid.

He however noted that some elements in the administration appeared to have so far been delaying payment to the City Council.

The Mayor also dismissed another of Luncheon's charges at the press conference that the City Council's accounts and systems were inadequate.

Luncheon had noted that, while failing to receive notices from the M&CC, Government had gotten similar ones from the Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners (GS&WC). He then remarked that, unlike GS&WC, the M&CC's accounting and information storage systems were inadequate.

However, Green, without admitting any fault on his council's part, declared that this did not give the Government the right to default on paying their taxes. "What is owed should be paid", said the Mayor.

Stabroek News understands that while the City Council is claiming that government owes it over $500 million, the Government has budgeted a significantly smaller sum to be paid for rates and taxes. (Kester Morris)

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