Markets closed

By Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
October 15, 1999

All municipal markets with the exception of the one at East Ruimveldt, will be closed from today as the garbage crisis gripping the cash-strapped city deepens.

The city's drainage is also likely to be affected with a threatened withdrawal of services by contractors attached to this section.

Garbage started piling up in and around the city over the last two weeks, after some garbage disposal contractors withdrew their services to protest non-payment and the locking of the gate at the dump site.

The Mayor and City Council (M&CC) had announced that there was no money to pay the contractors and had called on the government, which it claimed owes it over $600 million in rates and taxes, to settle the outstanding debts.

Following a meeting yesterday with M&CC medical personnel, a decision was taken by the council to shutter the markets. The council said the decision was taken as a result of professional and technical advice from the medical officer at City Hall and other experts.

According to the M&CC, the large pile-up of garbage in different sections of the city especially around the markets was a breach of the health regulations governing business accommodations. The medical officer of health and other experts said there was a "high possibility" of contamination of foods offered for sale at facilities around the markets, as a result of the garbage pile-up. The M&CC, in a statement issued yesterday afternoon, said the markets would be closed from today, while the council pursued a solution to the crisis.

Meanwhile, stallholders at the municipal markets have not taken kindly to the closing of their businesses on the busiest day of the week. Stallholders claimed that at about 1500 hrs yesterday, they were informed that the markets would be closed. The worried business people said that sales during the week were slow and they were looking forward to the Friday business to pay people they purchase goods from.

One stallholder who sells rice in the Bourda market, said it was unfair for the council to close the market as a result of garbage which had piled up outside. He said the clearing of garbage was not their responsibility and stallholders should not be punished for the council's incompetence and inability to dispose of the garbage. They claimed it was unfair to them, since stallholders outside the market who were closer to the garbage piles would be allowed to sell.

Many stallholders said by the time the announcement was made, they had already purchased goods to sell today and tomorrow. They questioned who would repay them for the losses they were likely to suffer with their perishable goods.

One Bourda Market businesswoman suggested that the council should have closed the markets on the first three days of the week and not Friday.

City Hall also said that contractors whose equipment are used by the City Engineer's drainage section have now threatened to withdraw their services.

The M&CC said it was reported that 20 children at the South Road clinic have been diagnosed with acute diarrhoea since Wednesday.

Garbage disposal contractors had withdrawn some of their services from the M&CC after they were not paid outstanding sums. Some contractors had continued to work despite not being paid. While one innovative contractor had started to charge residents a fee of $300 to collect a barrel of garbage. However, contractors were forced to stop clearing garbage when the M&CC Cleansing Department locked the gate to the dump site.

Head of the Cleansing Department, Maurice Walker, said the gate was locked after contractors who moved the garbage at the site stopped working.

Garbage disposal contractors were paid for two weeks by the M&CC last Friday. Deputy Mayor Robert Williams had said the sum of $8 million was paid to the contractors. When asked whether this was enough to prompt the contractors to resume collecting garbage, Williams said they (the contractors) would not budge.

However, when contacted, contractors said they were never asked to resume clearing garbage and even if they did there was no place to dump it.

At an extraordinary council meeting at City Hall yesterday, Williams said the Cleansing Department had put mechanisms in place to clear certain types of garbage from the hospital and the abattoir. He said this was being disposed of at 'Old Smokey' the incinerator on Princes Street.

Williams said the council owed the contractors a total of $29.4 million for 48 weeks of work. The M&CC said that over the past two weeks, through its "own efforts" it had received $12 million, two million of which came from the Office of the President.

After meetings were held with government officials including President Bharrat Jagdeo, council was informed by the Minister of Local Government, Clinton Collymore that Cabinet had informed all ministries to pay their rates and taxes with the sums allocated to them in the budget.

According to the M&CC statement, on October 1, Cabinet had decided that the Ministry of Works which had already verified the properties it normally paid for, would take steps to have those sums disbursed immediately. The statement said Cabinet had made a decision that the Ministry of Finance would facilitate the release of funds to City Hall without delay. However, the M&CC said, these decisions of Cabinet were not acted upon despite a letter from the Office of the President.

The council said that in anticipation of the receipt of this revenue, it had already expended and committed $172 million for works done and services supplied by various agencies including the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph company and the Guyana Power and Light Inc.

PNC councillors Patricia Woolford and Oscar Clarke called for measures to force the government to pay up.

Woolford called for the shutting down of the city, while Clarke called for the identification of the culprits who caused the city to be in the situation it was in. Questioning whether the government was callous and did not care for the citizens, Clarke said the people "out there" affected by the garbage pile up, should not think that "we don't care."

He said when the real culprits were identified, the people should organise and take action against them. He suggested the beginning of a campaign last night to meet the people and sensitise them about the situation.

PPP councillor Carl Rogers, said he agreed with Clarke that the culprits should be identified, but noted that "all" the people who owe the council should be identified and their names published in the newspaper and action taken against them.

Mayor Hamilton Green when asked what the next step was, said the proposal to reach out to the people would be taken. He said the details would be worked out.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples