Mix up on govt debt far from over

City Council Round Up
With Cecil Griffith
Stabroek News
October 4, 1999

It's unlikely that whatever amounts of money the Georgetown City Council receives from the Jagdeo government, city hall's money crunch will end soon.

Although directives have gone out to the various ministries and government entities to pay up their outstanding general rates, the misunderstanding between the government and the council over the total amount of money owed to the municipality is far from being resolved.

The administration has already disclaimed that it owes the council $600 million in general rates and has charged city hall with failure to provide notices of demand to the individual ministries and entities.

But the city treasurer, Roderick Edinboro has assured me that he has proof that these notices were sent out between September 23 and 24. He explained that the amount owed to the council in general rates by the private sector, the public sector and house owners is in the vicinity of $900 million.

The Registrar of the Supreme Court has not paid general rates since 1997 on properties in Stabroek, Lacytown and Kingston. The outstanding debt is nearly $30 million.

Similarly the offices of the President and the Prime Minister respectively owe more that $15 million and $25 million.

The city treasurer pointed out that the council under the laws is only required to send out notices of demand to property owners if interest is to be charged on the first quarter of payment. All changes in ownership of property must be brought to the attention of the council.

He also clarified that under the law the Ministry of Works is still legally responsible for paying general rates for government buildings.

Edinboro has assured me that his office will exhaust all legal procedures to recover outstanding rates, including the disposal of properties.

In addition to the outstanding general rates, the government will have to pay interest. In the meantime the non-payment of general rates by the government remains a hot topic around the horseshoe table as councillors from the three political parties indulge in their accustomed rhetoric, empty threats and wild assumptions.

Take for example the last Monday statement by Good and Green, Guyana councillor-trade unionist Anson Sancho calling on the council to close down the city.

The unions
The council also has to deal with demands from the two unions representing its work force for increased emoluments to be paid this year. The general secretary of the Guyana Labour Union, Carvil Duncan and the President of the Local Government Officers Union, Andrew Garnett last week were allowed to present their unions' arguments for wage and salary increases, to the council. The increases range between 25 and 40 per cent.

The council is still to decide on a new wages and salary package for municipal workers and there are even differences among councillors on how to approach this issue.

At last Monday's statutory meeting the 'chief citizen' suggested that the leaders of the three parties on the council meet the union representatives, but the deputy mayor and chairman of the finance committee Robert Williams was of the view that the council should first work out a negotiating position so that the leaders would know how far to go in accepting a new wage and salary bill.

The leader of the People's National Congress group on the council, Oscar Clarke, while acknowledging that wage and salary increases are overdue for the municipal workers, noted that in order to examine the issue councillors must know the size of the work force. Councillor Clarke also called for a detailed statement from the treasurer's department on the city's finances.

In his presentation to the statutory meeting last Monday, the Guyana Labour Union's general secretary left no doubt that he is ready to call out his members if their demands are not met. City hall is still looking for funds to pay the long suffering private garbage collectors who are owed millions of dollars for work done.

The mayor's woes
Apart from the money and labour problems facing the embattled mayor Hamilton Green, some GGG councillors continue to resist the party's line or rather the 'Green line' as one 'rebel' described it to me. At last Monday's statutory meeting, GGG councillor 'Trini' Boyce, clashed with his leader, mayor Green and eventually won the right to have the minutes of the previous statutory meeting corrected despite strong resistance from the 'chief citizen'. The councillor has taken mayor Green to court over a disputed resignation letter.

The mayor was obviously embarrassed last week when he learned that the 29 councillors had been paid their stipends for last month, days before the municipal workers received their pay packets. "When was this done...."? he asked.

An appeal
With 89 more days to go before the dawn of the new millennium the time is ripe for the Jagdeo government, the private sector and those so called do-gooders in the city to join together and come to the help of the Georgetown city council, before city hall spins out of orbit becoming a lost city. The bellicose statements from councillors about bringing pressure on the government are just empty blustering. The city 'fathers and mothers' need help in a positive way...especially on how to manage and be accountable to citizens. Let's stop talking the talk and even writing the write...and walk the walk for the good of our capital city ... Georgetown.

A © page from:
Guyana: Land of Six Peoples