Change needed in city's management
Stabroek News
January 7, 2002

Clearly the Georgetown City Council faces a crisis of confidence at the moment. With Mayor Green's serious attack Friday on top officers of the city and the accusation that they are disobeying the instructions of the city councillors, it is difficult to see how a constructive working relationship can flourish. This is not at all good for a city that it is punishing under the burden of insufficient funding, inability to provide basic services, unbridled violations of zoning regulations and by laws, squatting, large-scale trespass by vendors and urban migration.

To have a council deeply estranged from its top officers - those who keep the wheels of the city turning - will only lead to further rapid deterioration. Whether the mayor is justified in his accusations should be investigated and pronounced upon. However, there is a greater likelihood that the Americans will find Osama bin Laden towing Mullah Omar on a Harley Davidson in Tora Bora than the Local Government Ministry getting its act together. After all, the exact allegations were levelled by Mayor Green several years ago against some of the same officers and the Local Government Ministry was handed the problem. Nothing happened. It has been a long-running saga. The mayor and Town Clerk Beulah Williams have clashed for years now epitomised by the infamous El Jefe/heifer remark by the mayor.

It is a soap opera that won't end. The problem is that the citizens of the city switched channels a long time ago in disgust and hardly care anymore. This year will mark the eighth anniversary of the present council without it ever going back to the electorate! A new election is four years overdue! This is unheard of in the annals of progressive local government. The term of this council could be even further extended as local government elections might not be held this year. Getting the electoral list to meet the satisfaction of some of the political parties will take a minor miracle. The delay in holding new elections is one of the real tragedies of the upheaval that accompanied the 1997 and 2001 general elections.

Election or no election, citizens of Georgetown have had their fill of the dramas that the councillors and its top officers star in. All they want is decent service in return for the taxes they pay. (The continuing drainage programme has been one bright spot for the council recently.) The establishment of an interim management body for the city until new elections can be held should definitely find a place on the agenda of the dialogue between President Jagdeo and Mr Hoyte. The Interim Management Council, which had been set up by the PPP/C after the 1992 elections, was widely acclaimed for the quality of its work. A reincarnation of this body would give hope to the people. A three-member committee comprising one councillor from each of the three parties on the present council could be retained in an advisory capacity and for continuity.

The lasting lesson that will be embedded in the minds of the residents from the tenure of this council is the enormous damage that a political body with the fractious mix as this one could inflict. There was never a genuine attempt to work together. As fortunes waned or burnt brighter one side ganged up with the other against the third. Dr Jagan's proposal for rotating the mayorship was not seized and built upon. Besides an adequate pool of guaranteed revenue - and not being held to ransom by central government - the city desperately needs good administrators and managers. An elected council in the future can serve as the policy setter while day-to-day affairs and management of the city would be entrusted to people with business acumen. The city - as many have said before - must be run like a business. That said, officers like the Town Clerk and the City Engineer must be accountable and answerable to the council for their performance.

The local government task force which emerged out of the Jagdeo/Hoyte dialogue should take a close look at the current structure of the council and its machinery with a view to depoliticising it and getting capable people to run Georgetown. The capital city deserves nothing less.