Competent managers, accountability needed

Stabroek News
October 4, 1999

There was a time when one paid rates and taxes one could be absolutely certain that the services contracted from the city would be provided on time and efficiently. Those days are long gone, a casualty of the unrestrained breakdown of systems and standards over decades.

If city administrators and the government are serious about reversing the tide of squalour and shabbiness that has overrun the capital city then tough choices must be made.

Last week's drama over the cut off of garbage collection and a plea to the government to pay up its arrears was symptomatic of the plight that has gripped the city and its administrators.

Collection of rates and taxes - even from the government - has fallen far below what the city needs to fulfil current expenditure let alone capital projects.

The shortfall in rates collection is likely attributable to faults of the city's administrators. First, accountability for the spending of funds is difficult to trace. The Office of the Auditor General recently concluded that it was impossible to reconstruct backlogged accounts for 1987-1994 (central government itself has an infamous backlog from 1982-91). Accounts for the city now have to be brought up to date for the period 95-98. Falling so close to the shenanigans surrounding the purchase of constabulary uniforms from a Miami-based company which cannot now be located and myriad other incidents as it pertains to accountability and the quality of judgement of the council, the lack of shipshape accounts will most likely impede collection.

Secondly, because of the potholed state of the city's systems and accounts, it appears that it often doesn't know who owes what and for which period. Central government itself had to sit down with the council and attempt to validate the various claims pressed against it and this process is ongoing. What about the ordinary citizen who might have a query on rates extending back to the period of irremediable accounts? Can he be assured of a prompt feedback on what he owes? The city has to devise a more thorough and aggressive means of collecting what is owed to it.

Thirdly, if all of Georgetown's citizens could match the payment of their rates and taxes with satisfactory service i.e. cleaning of drains, well-kept parapets, smooth roads, regular garbage clearance, visit of sanitary inspectors etc. taxes would be much easier to collect. This is not the case and the inadequacy of services may also have to do with the revenue base of the municipality.

There are a couple of things that the city and the government must do to arrest the continued, intolerable deterioration of the city's condition.

First, confidence must be reconsecrated among the citizenry in the city's ability to manage its finances. This requires the most stringent accounting for funds expended be it the rates and taxes of the Queenstown ward, the subvention from central government or a donation from some benevolent source. Up-to-date accounting must be the mantra of the city and the government.

Secondly, what is woefully lacking in the city's firmament is effective management. Our current municipal model with politicians presiding over the varied cogs in the wheel is a recipe for nothingness. The three groups on the council bicker endlessly on the basis of political considerations instead of the fundamental principle of what's best for Georgetown. They also exude the enervating one-upmanship complex more suitable for exuberant school debaters. What Georgetown needs is five or six capable managers to marshal the resources of the city and spend it prudently with the council perhaps serving as a policy making and advisory body. In the hiatus before fresh local government elections this is something that can be tried the same way the Interim Management Committee was tested and the city and government should seriously consider it.

Thirdly, with the ever expanding urban sprawl is the city's budget and its revenue options adequate? Mayor Hamilton Green's varied proposals for raising more revenue have been repeatedly thwarted as government seems to want to control the purse strings of the city as it is doing at the moment by only now agreeing to pay what it owed in the first place! The city must be able to fund its budgetary needs from revenue outside of the control of government otherwise undue pressure can be brought to bear for political reasons.

These changes must take root and flourish before the seemingly don't care culture of Georgetown's citizens can be tackled head on.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples