Garbage collectors get $31M from city
-markets to reopen today

By Patrick Denny and Desiree Jodah
Stabroek News
October 16, 1999

Striking garbage contractors have been paid in full and should begin removing household refuse again on Monday.

As a result, the city's markets that were ordered closed yesterday by the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) will open today, following the removal of piles of refuse outside of them.

Deputy Mayor Robert Williams said that on Thursday the M&CC had received $6 million from government for judicial buildings and $89 million from the Ministry of Hydraulics and Transport. The Office of the President had also paid a sum of $2 million earlier in the week. However, there are still outstanding sums owed by other government agencies.

Williams said that of the sums received $31 million had been paid to contractors. According to the deputy mayor, this sum represents all the invoices submitted by them. Williams disclosed that the M&CC was currently mobilising the contractors to start clearing household garbage by Monday.

Meanwhile, some vendors took to vending their goods outside the markets yesterday.

Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon told reporters at his fortnightly press briefing yesterday at the GTV studios, Homestretch Avenue, that funds allocated in the budgets of the various ministries for the payment of rates and taxes had been released. Luncheon, a fortnight ago, and President Bharrat Jagdeo, a week ago, announced that instructions had been given for these sums to be paid over to the City Council.

Luncheon explained that the delay in the release of funds was as a result of the bureaucracy at the Budget Office of the Finance Ministry. "The mechanisms [for the release of funds] have been examined and urgent action has been undertaken by those responsible in the Budget Office of the Ministry of Finance to ensure that Cabinet instructions are dealt with in a timely manner."

Asked about the government's reaction to the closure of the markets yesterday, Luncheon said that this move was an escalation of the council's steps "in attempting to address the consequences of its failure to have a proper disposal of garbage."

The markets were ordered closed after the overspilling of garbage in their surroundings was deemed a health risk as well as a breach of the regulations governing business accommodations. Garbage clogged the city as a result of disposal contractors withdrawing their services for non-payment of outstanding monies and the locking of the gate to the dump site on Mandela Avenue. The M&CC had announced it had no money to pay contractors and had called on the government, which it claimed owes over $600 million, to settle its debts.

The Cabinet Secretary denied that central government's failure to pay its rates and taxes was primarily responsible for the crisis. He explained that the government's failure to pay its rates and taxes on time was not a novel experience and that the City Council should be asked what was the payment made by the government last year for rates and taxes and if its failure to pay what was demanded resulted in a situation such as the one that had developed this year. "My own suspicions are that whatever was paid last year and what has been paid so far by the government are not very dissimilar and yet the outcome in 1999 is so profoundly different. The Mayor and City Council may be able to venture some explanation."

Luncheon said that the Mayor and City Council should also explain what expenditure had been prioritised for payment from revenues collected and "why clothes [uniforms] and other things were deemed to be more important than paying the firms engaged in garbage collection."

"The administration has approved an overdraft. The administration is, in a very untimely way I must admit, moving to discharge its acceptable financial obligations to the municipality. But I suspect notwithstanding that, crises will continue to erupt, disrupting the lives of citizens and tarnishing the image of the capital city."

Luncheon contended that the performance of the economy which had registered negative growth last year and was likely to do so again this year prevents central government from leaping to the aid of the city as it had done in 1997.

But he said that awareness of the difficulties faced by the municipality required not only action by the government but a recognition by City Hall that it needed to look at its operations critically including the use to which it puts the revenues it collects.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples