Who should run Georgetown?

City Council Round-Up
Cecil Griffith
Stabroek News
October 18, 1999

Now that the stench in the city has subsided, after the garbage pile up last week, in several parts of Georgetown the unanswered question still remains....should the thirty city 'fathers' and 'mothers' from the three political parties, a Good and Green Guyana (GGG), the People's National Congress, (PNC) and the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) continue to run the affairs of our capital city.

As I move around the city this question was put to me by a cross-section of interested citizens and property owners and from their comments the answer is a resounding NO.

Many wanted to know how such a situation, with the one day closure of the main municipal markets, could have developed and who is to blame. Obviously the Jagdeo government's dilly-dallying in releasing the sums owed the council for rates and taxes over the years must share some blame but I heartily agree with the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon "that one should hesitate to attribute blame to any single entity or personality....."

"One should seek to involve as many as possible in arriving at a solution and implementing that solution..." he told reporters last Friday.

According to Dr Luncheon, who is also Cabinet Secretary, the garbage pile up and the standoff between the government and the city council has thrown up the need "for the widest possible collaboration in discharging municipal functions in an open way.."

This statement poses yet another question, is the tripartite council prepared to collaborate with the government...?

At the extraordinary meeting summoned by a group of councillors not identified by mayor Hamilton Green, last Thursday, the leader of the PNC faction on the council, Oscar Clarke was in a fighting mood calling for the culprit in the standoff to be publicly identified. He left no doubt that he was referring to the PPP/C administration. Councillor Clarke, who is the PNC's general secretary said he was ready to lead any group of councillors who was willing to "go to the people and tell them who is the culprit.." "This council has been too lenient and quiet" he added suggesting, the mounting of a campaign "to advise the people how to protect themselves... and organise them to take action..."

While this speech was the strongest ever delivered by councillor Clarke since he took over the PNC leadership on the council from attorney-at-law, now parliamentarian, Debra Backer, he was wise enough to avoid any call for the capital city to be closed down, a suggestion from his PNC colleague councillor, Patricia Woolford.

While two of the most vocal GGG Councillors, Harold Kissoon and Patricia Chase-Green stayed away from the extraordinary meeting, other GGG councillors present took the cue from Deputy Mayor Robert Williams, to attack the government's treatment of the council. Other absentees from the meeting last Thursday were the PNC's Desmond Moses and the PPP/Civic's leader on the council Fitzgerald Agard and Rudolph Harris. Although councillors Rocky Mann and Carl Rogers defended the PPP/Civic's position on the issue, their arguments needed the bolstering from the mild mannered councillor Agard, who is well respected by all councillors around the horseshoe table. Unlike some other councillors he is not a 'verbal bombardier'.

Disbanding the council
Answering questions at the fortnightly briefing of reporters last Friday, Dr Luncheon, a man who chooses his words very carefully made it clear that "the administration has no plans to disband the mayor and city council of Georgetown and to assume its functions..." Reconcile this statement with another comment by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat at his press briefing....."the government is not fully satisfied with the state of affairs in the municipality administration...I suspect notwithstanding that, (the garbage pile up)....crises will continue to erupt affecting the lives of the citizens and tarnishing the image of this capital city..."

It seems to me that the Jagdeo administration continues to be wedded to the democratic process both in the central and local government, but I am left to wonder whether the President is properly briefed on the operations of the Georgetown city council where there is distrust not only among councillors but also infighting among senior officers of the council where there are obvious bitter disagreements even among their members of staff who have to carry out the decisions of the council.

Mayor Green has on many occasions and even at the last statutory meeting called for the putting in place of S.O.Ps (standard operating procedures) and sounded a warning that he would not take too kindly to officers not performing their duties in the interest of their employers....the taxpayers. The 'chief citizen' has also been advocating a restructuring or reconfiguring of the city council to ensure there is better accountability, even suggesting that personnel be brought in to city hall to improve the culture there. The pile up of garbage and the closing of the main markets in the city should serve as a wake up call to the government as Georgetown and its citizens prepare for the 21st century...this is not the time to allow things to slide....This is the time for action and commitment by the government and an opportunity for the new Head of State to stamp his authority on matters municipal.

A lost opportunity
The Private Sector-Presidential summit has come and gone with kudos from the editorial page of this newspaper on October 16th.

But I am disappointed after reading the final communique which according to the newspapers had an input from President Jagdeo.

Attention was paid to the rice industry, the banking sector, mining, the manufacturing sector, the poultry industry and the future of local technical institutes among others.

But nowhere was there any mention in the communique about the future of the Guyana capital, Georgetown which all Guyanese would admit is under siege with chaos on the streets and pavements.

Except for a statement from the head of the Private Sector Commission Mr George Jardim, on the state of the city the local 'captains of industry and commerce' meeting at Le Meridien seemed to have forgotten that, after they would have left their air conditioned and orderly surroundings, they would have to return to their offices and businesses in the city.

Why couldn't these businessmen, bankers and government ministers take time to consider the setting up of a committee like the others, to find solutions and work along with city hall to return order and tidiness to Georgetown. Did it not occur to the bankers, who are headquartered in Water Street, as well as those members of the Private Sector Commission, that the time had come for the vendor menace and cleaning of the city to be tackled head-on with strong support from their end and the government?

A great Guyanese poet, the later Martin Carter wrote.....All are involved... All are consumed....Take it from there you 'captains of industry and commerce'.

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