Do our city fathers and mothers ever walk around Georgetown? Consumer Concerns
By Eileen Cox
Stabroek News
March 24, 2002

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Study, study, study. Study is the order of the day if local government reform is to provide the basis for the democracy of which we speak and which we do not see in action.

The Stabroek News of March 18, 2002, reported that two experts are being made available to the joint committee on local government reform. The theme for World Consumer Rights Day, which was commemorated on 15th March, was The Consumer's Right to Representation. It should therefore be set clearly in our minds that consumers should be involved in discussions on the reform and this should not be left entirely to political parties. Politicians may argue that having been elected, the electorate has given them power to speak for them on all issues. Not so. Dr. Ptolemy Reid often told his audience "Not because I say so, it's so."

Consumers in rural areas have been asking for a return to the old local government system. In Georgetown, there is no other word but "disgust" to describe the attitude of the citizens to the deterioration observed in the city. What goes for Georgetown may also be the feeling in other towns and villages. When a village council can order residents to destroy their flower gardens and allow the parapets to return to grass, then it is obvious that something is really lacking.

In Georgetown there are many who have advocated that the City Council should give way to a City Manager. This is a progressive step but will politicians allow it to be realised? We do not see ourselves as being for ever doomed to the spectacle of divisions on political and racial lines. Good governance must be the aim.

While the political parties squabble, the city deteriorates. Take a walk around Georgetown and note the clumps of cement or tar on pavements, a danger to the unsuspecting pedestrian at night and even in the day. Note the tree roots running across the Main Street Avenue there is a block of discarded cement to be seen in one section. This is a trap for those who walk with their heads in the air.

Maybe our city fathers and mothers never walk in the city and therefore have not observed the open manholes waiting patiently for a calamity. They cannot visualise the trauma experienced by someone who may fall into such an opening. Take a walk to America Street. Some metres from Avenue of the Republic there is a wide chasm. It is a danger, but who cares? The Council never pays compensation for injuries suffered by users of their roads, so it really is of no concern to them.

For a real innovation, walk down Robb Street from Avenue of the Republic to Camp Street. You will not believe your eyes when you see the rises in the pavement in front of some stores. In one instance the pavement is raised about 40 centimetres high, a stumbling block for handicapped persons, the visually impaired and the elderly.

The wide pavement that runs between Fogarty's and Guyana Stores in Water Street has been transformed into an unsightly vendors' arcade with nearly enough space in the centre for pedestrians to traverse. We walk there with care that we do not touch any body or any thing.

Will the involvement of consumers in discussions on local government reform become a reality? Leaders should step forward in the communities and motivate others. Community groups can then sit down and study the implications of the changes with the help of those who can translate the technical details into household language. The changes should not be just for today and tomorrow.

On November 1, 2001, Dr Ragoonauth of Trinidad addressed a gathering at the City Hall on Local Government, under the auspices of the National Democratic Institute (NDI). His address was well received. Unfortunately there was no tape recording and therefore no hard copy to sit down and study. His speech could have formed the basis for discussions on local government reform. There was a video and maybe there is still time to have the speech transcribed and made available in all corners of Guyana.

Let us not be disheartened by the apparent public apathy. In the United Kingdom there is a similar consumer apathy. The National Consumers Council issued a Press Release on World Consumer Rights Day saying "Consumers say getting involved in a waste of time". This is based on a paper that has been published by the NCC "Putting Up with Second Best: A summary of research into consumer attitudes towards representation and involvement."

Let us not fall into that trap. Make a resolution, now, to join with others in your community to insist that your voices are heard. We can make local government reform the basis for a change in consumer representation for good governance.

Editor's note: Minerva is on leave this week; she will be back next week.