Better Hope/La Bonne Intention NDC
Development works should be shared more evenly - residents Say better monitoring of projects needed By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
January 31, 2004

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(This is the fourth part of a series on local government.)

Following the publication of an interview last Saturday with Thakur 'Mike' Persaud, the chairman of the Better Hope/La Bonne Intention (LBI) Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) Stabroek News met and spoke with several residents about their view of the council and its achievements over the past nine years. Stabroek News also spoke with past councillors who for one reason or another opted out of the NDC

Residents within the Better Hope/LBI NDC feel that too much of the developmental work in the area is focused on Better Hope. Several residents came forward to voice their opinion, but were not willing to go on record because they say they feared victimisation.

A resident of Chateau Margot, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Stabroek News that much of what the NDC chairman said was true, but she felt that most of the developments centred on Better Hope and not the entire NDC. She said that the work done in the individual communities were through the community development councils (CDCs), which were promoted by the late president, Dr Cheddi Jagan.

She said that initially when the NDC took office there were a few visits by councillors or by the councillor living within the area but those visits have ceased almost entirely. She said, too, that meetings involving residents in the neighbourhood were not held. This contention was endorsed by several residents. She was not certain who the remaining councillors were, but she was familiar with the chairman. She said that the drains in Chateau Margot needed cleaning at present and the garbage was an awful sight.

Responding to the remarks, the NDC chairman told Stabroek News that he too lived in Chateau Margot and the drains and trenches were cleaned twice a year. He said that the NDC did not have the resources to clean as regularly as everyone would want. At present, he said, a lot of grass had grown on the parapets and weeds had taken over some of the drains because of the current rains. However he noted that there were residents who cleared the parapets and cleaned the drains in front of their own homes and he commended them.

Six women and four men found by Stabroek News between Montrose and Vryheid's Lust were asked who their NDC chairman was; only two knew. One person actually named an individual, Parmanand Sukhu, who lives in Melanie Damishana but who at one time was the chairman of the community development council (CDC) at Better Hope and who was seen as a leader of the community policing group in the area.

Garbage - the biggest problem
Every resident who was asked about the effectiveness of the council said that the NDC was failing in carrying out its duties in relation to garbage collection and disposal. But they felt that the NDC had tried in terms of road repairs and construction and drainage.

Commenting on the garbage situation, which he had addressed previously, the NDC chairman acknowledged that disposal was a big problem. However, he said that this problem was being looked at under a solid waste management programme for the entire East Coast Demerara area. At present, he said that the problem was bigger than the NDC itself because of developments taking place and the changing nature of the garbage such as plastics, tyres and metals.

One resident at Success said that the NDC tractor collected garbage irregularly - once a month or once every two weeks - and this was not effective as garbage continued to pile up at almost every roadside, in trenches and on dams within the neighbourhood.

At the trench separating Success and Triumph villages where a bridge is under construction, the contractor has cleared tons of garbage. This included the shells of vehicles, steel rods, tyres, broken pieces of furniture and a variety of odds and ends.

The NDC chairman said that the NDC was looking at purchasing another tractor and trailer to deal with garbage disposal. A site for disposal is the biggest humbug.

Former councillor Rooplall Persaud said that residents could aid in the disposal of garbage by burning little things like paper in their backyards instead of throwing them on the road. In addition, he said it would help if residents obtained garbage receptacles to place their garbage in, instead of throwing the garbage on the roadside and awaiting the NDC service.

Residents admitted that the problem of garbage was not confined to the neighbourhood but that it was also a problem for the entire East Coast Demerara.

Turning a blind eye
Two residents said they believed that the chairman and councillors turned a blind eye to certain problems in the neighbourhood. For example, one resident of Better Hope said that a resident has built a structure on the parapet just in front of the NDC office. They questioned how the NDC could condone that.

Stabroek News had been told that the resident was asked to dismantle it by the works committee chairman but the resident persisted. The NDC chairman told Stabroek News this week that at the last statutory meeting a decision was taken to pursue the matter in court.

One resident boasted that he had two houses on one lot and nobody can do him anything. Another said that when he was constructing his "bottom flat" the NDC told him to stop construction. He said his response to them was that he was just a little boy trying to make his family comfortable and he would stop construction only when the big boys started obeying the laws, too. He has completed his "bottom flat." The NDC chairman said he was not aware of these issues, but monitoring without staff and limited resources was difficult. He urged people to try as far as possible to do things within the law or there could be repercussions for them down the line.

Some residents said that roads were probably built in Better Hope, but there were roads in the community which needed building.

However, the resident in Chateau Margot who spoke to Stabroek News gave the NDC credit for working on roads, which she said, were much better than they used to be before. She opined that a number of the roads in the neighbourhood should be done as capital projects by the government after which the NDC could maintain them.

Following this there was a debate over which agency had built better roads - the NDC or Central Government. But another view was that the central government funding which came through the Region Four (Demerara/ Mahaica) administration would have been so limited that the reflection of the funds released to the region would be seen in the thinness or thickness of the road.

The council
Fazil Rahim, a former councillor, who resides at Chateau Margot, said that he resigned as a member of the NDC in 2000 after giving six years of service. As a councillor with responsibility for a particular area, he said that he tried his best, but his best appeared to be no good as people in the area lambasted him for what he had done, what he had not done and what he should have done. In addition, he said, the job as councillor was a voluntary one and he had a family to maintain and therefore had to earn a livelihood.

Another councillor who preferred anonymity tendered his resignation after three years. He said that because of his professional background he was encouraged to be part of the NDC and he contested the elections with the intention of serving for three years. So after three years he exercised his option to resign since his own profession carries a lot of responsibility. He said that he might have stayed on but he was responsible for finance on the NDC and had wanted everything to be as clean as possible. However, he started to encounter some difficulties with his colleagues, especially as it related to projects and contracts. In order to ensure his integrity, he resigned. Asked what he meant by "some difficulties", he gave an example where a food-for-work project for the refurbishing of the Better Hope Community Centre was used for purposes other than which it was intended. It was used for electioneering and campaign purposes, he said.

Another past councillor, Rooplall Persaud said that he was thrown out of the council in the first year in spite of excuses he gave for not attending three consecutive meetings. He said the NDC used Chapter 28:03 to expel him from the council but he contends it was unfair since he had sent excuses covering his absence from the statutory meetings and he knew that the excuses were delivered.

One year after the 1994 local government elections, the deputy chairman of the council resigned because of ill health.

Chairman Persaud told the Stabroek News that keeping the council going was a difficult task. Members of the present council, including himself, he said, get frustrated and want to opt out because the job is voluntary.

Accountability and monitoring
A group of three persons who spoke with Stabroek News at Success felt that the issue of how funds are being spent in the neighbourhood by the NDC should be monitored not only during the construction phase for quality but for use after and for care and maintenance.

One said that the Success Market building, an initiative of the NDC was built at a cost of $4.5 million through SIMAP with Inter-American Development Bank funding. Today the market is a white elephant. One resident said that if the NDC had met residents and consulted on a possible site for the market it would have been in use today.

The NDC chairman disputed this saying that the market was not an NDC initiative but it was the area's CDC initiative. He said that the site for the market was not good and the vendors from the area could not compete with the Mon Repos market found in the neighbouring NDC.

There is currently a proposal to modify the building and convert it to a nursery school because the nursery school which caters for Chateau Margot and Success is overcrowded. This matter is being looked at by the Region Four Education Department.

The residents noted, too, that schools were built in the area, but there was no monitoring and they rapidly fell into a state of disrepair. Chateau Margot Primary was built in the late nineties with funding from the Basic Needs Trust Fund and today some of the windows are already hanging by one hinge and boards are missing from the walls.

Some residents said that a number of suggestions had been made by councillors of the NDC in relation to education in the area. These suggestions they said are still to be acted on. However, the NDC chairman is contending that some people are confusing the role played by the CDCs (most of which are not functioning at present) and the NDC.

Asked about a suggestion to establish a secondary school in the NDC, he said that he was not aware of it.

One resident said that around 1994 a suggestion had been put forward to Dr Cheddi Jagan to build a secondary school at LBI. Dr Jagan's response, he said, was that the people did not have to wait to construct a building to start the school but to start the school in an available building.

It was noted that the LBI Primary School built under the Primary Education Improvement Project (PEIP) was under-utilised. Similarly, the resident said that there was another primary school, rebuilt also under the PEIP, in the neighbouring village of Beterverwagting which was under-utilised also. He opined that the children from the primary schools could use one school building and secondary classes could start in one of the primary school buildings while a secondary school building was being built.

He noted that there was plenty of vacant land in the compound which accommodates the LBI primary and nursery schools.

The NDC chairman agreed that land was available for the construction of a secondary school at LBI. Like residents in the community he noted that after writing the Secondary School Entrance Examinations (SSEE) children were not placed in proper secondary schools and the drop-out rate would be high for students at the secondary level within the NDC.

One resident said that there had also been suggestions for the establishment of a skills training centre for young people in the NDC but this was never followed through.

A former councillor opined that education was not taken as seriously as it should be in the NDC. But the NDC chairman disputed this saying that the NDC could not go about establishing schools but could play a role in lobbying government. However, he said that support for this would also have to come from the people. Because the council was constrained in not meeting people as it should and meetings were not held, he said that some of the suggestions might not have been recorded.

Crediting the NDC
One resident, who has a property in another NDC said that he pays $200 in rates and taxes for the year to that NDC (Enmore) and the service there was poor compared to the Better Hope/LBI NDC. The average rate he pays per property in the Better Hope/LBI NDC is $3,000 to $4,000 per year and even that he said was not sufficient to effectively manage the affairs of the NDC.

He noted that the rates and taxes for the Buxton/Foulis NDC was $60 a year. Another NDC charged $12 for an acre of farm land. It was a "hell of a situation" for an NDC to find itself with a little source of income, he said. But he acknowledged that if the Better Hope/LBI NDC sought to increase its rates and taxes because residents wanted their drains cleaned more often, it would meet with stiff opposition.

Local government reform
He questions, too, "a top heavy local government bureaucracy" in which there are two government ministers with responsibility for local government and municipal matters, and RDC and NDC chairmen. "It is a small country. How confusing its gets," he said, adding that jobs should not be created for people in such a manner. He opined that there should be one minister and a permanent secretary and a more organised system for the NDCs.