City fortunes on the rise?

Stabroek News
April 6, 1998

City fortunes on the rise?

For citizens of Georgetown who since 1994 have had front row seats to the low comedy fare that the three-way City Council offered up consistently, the unveiling of its 1998 budget and the blossoming of a new relationship with central government nurtures renewed hope.

The first contested municipal elections in decades produced a council which fuelled high hopes among the citizenry for tangible changes in the outlook of the city of Georgetown and in the provision of an acceptable level of service.

From very early on it became clear that politics at the national level would determine whether the GGG, the PNC and the PPP/Civic worked in harmony and for the benefit of the city. National politics did indeed emasculate the council as each faction clung and did not resile from positions carved out by their leaders. All of the varying permutations in ties between the three were entered into whenever it suited their individual needs at the national level.

Furthermore, the agendas of the GGG and PNC-led councils were held hostage to the dictates of central government. The City Council has limited revenue resources at its disposal and a gamut of hikes and enabling laws required the blessings of the government before they could go forward. They did not.

At no time was this imbalance ever so clear as last year, when central government muscled in on several areas which legitimately were the preserve of the city administration: roads, drainage etc. The government made it evident that it would do as it pleased in the city and its relations with the GGG-led council were at an all-time low.

So what has changed since? The elections have come and gone. The GGG at the national level was virtually wiped out and the PPP/Civic under siege from the PNC can do with every iota of political support it can glean particularly from the ranks of those who are not perceived to be their traditional supporters. A political accommodation has obviously been reached between the two. The GGG leader has played it to the hilt and there has been a flurry of meetings with senior government functionaries including President Janet Jagan.

Furthermore, the PPP/Civic at the helm of the government cannot continue to shrug its shoulders at the state of the capital city and blame the council for its continuing deterioration. So these factors have all fortuitously combined to create what promises to be a fruitful and long overdue improvement in ties.

And the programme outlined last week by the GGG Chairman of the Finance Committee, Robert Williams, is quite impressive and room exists for its broadening.

Where last year the city was forbidden from participating in the roads programme, it has been given a key role. A Georgetown renewal project in tandem with the government is to begin before the conclusion of the second quarter and a series of community projects have been agreed with Culture Minister, Gail Teixeira. The latter includes a theatre for youngsters between 12-17, re-introduction of sports coaching in schools, the restoration of Concert Hall and $15M to renovate sports facilities across the city. The government is also committed to helping with the Princes Street incinerator and finding a new landfill site. It may also guarantee a loan for a major repair programme for city markets.

Clearly there is a deeper engagement between the PPP/Civic government and the GGG and this combination is the one that can produce dramatic results if there is inspired leadership and management of city affairs (this is still an important unknown).

The sad lesson in the shift in allegiances at the council level is that it entrenches the feeling that the fortunes of the city are at the mercy of purely political considerations. It is not a good omen for the country still besieged by the political paralysis resulting from the December 15 elections.