Interim committee wants elections held -says much road, drainage work being done
By Miranda La Rose
November 29, 2003
(This is the fifth in a series on local government.)
The Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Eccles/Ramsburg Neighbour-hood has long outlived its `interim' status and its seven members would be happy if local government elections could be held tomorrow.
The Eccles/Ramsburg Neighbourhood was the first to have an IMC installed in 2000 after the elected 18-member Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) was removed following an inquiry into its operations. There was controversy over the management of the council, which was headed by PPP/C councillor, Udoo Ramnarine, and a citizens group which contested the 1994 Municipal and Local Government elections. The then ten-member IMC, which is headed by a former councillor, Ashoke Kumar, was appointed by Minister in the Ministry of Local Govern-ment and Regional Develop-ment, Clinton Collymore.
Kumar told Stabroek News that members of the IMC have been affected by the continuous delaying of local government elections. When the IMC was appointed it was on the assumption that local government elections would have been held within a short period. The IMC has now been in office for three years, approaching a full-term for an elected council. In fairness to those now serving, he said, they came on board willingly because they felt that they would have been giving of their time voluntarily for a short term. He said that at present, he and others were looking forward to elections being held so the neighbourhood could benefit from fresh ideas.
The Eccles/Ramsburg Neighbourhood comprises Eccles, Bagotstown, Peter's Hall, Providence and Rams-burg. The Ramsburg area includes Nandy Park, Repub-lic Park, New Providence and Greenfield Park. The neighbourhood shares its border to the north with Georgetown and to the south with Hers-telling/Little Diamond NDC.
The Eccles/Ramsburg IMC pays a contractor to get rid of its garbage. This is the scene in a trench at Nandy Park.
The IMC was initially a ten-member committee including the chairman, but since it came into being it has been reduced to seven. One member died and two migrated. The other members of the IMC are NDC Deputy Chairman, Dewan Roshan; Overseer, Floyd France; Leon Goring; Indar Singh; Oswald Quamina; Esau Khan and SA Khan. Kumar said that the minister has been informed about the current strength of the IMC, but there has been no replacement. However, there is a quorum in place and the IMC holds statutory meetings on the first Monday of each month. The meetings are open to members of the public to observe.
Kumar recalled that when the IMC was initially appointed there was some opposition and some persons expressed their dissatisfaction through the media. When these persons started to see changes after the IMC began to streamline its operations the complaints became fewer. He said that when the IMC began its work it terminated the services of the overseer. The assistant overseer then applied for leave and never returned; her last pay packet is still at the NDC office. France was then recruited to be the new overseer. However, the Superintendent of Works did not want to take instructions from the new overseer and he, too, left the administration.
The current relationship between the IMC and residents within the neighbourhood, he said, "is fairly good. There is no overt hostility. Members of the IMC and neighbourhood employees can go in the fields and meet people."
Kumar recalled that when the IMC took office there was no proper accounting system in place. He said that this was also the case when the previous council was elected in 1994. The IMC's first task, therefore, was to put an accounting mechanism in place to ensure that funds were accounted for. In December last year, it asked the Office of the Auditor General to conduct a comprehensive audit of the books. France said the AG's office had indicated that it had other activities but was willing to undertake the task and this is currently taking place.
France said, too, that in March this year the neighbourhood opened its own bank account. Previously, the neighbourhood shared an account with 13 other NDCs in Region Four (Demerara/ Mahaica). Before that, only one other NDC, Herstelling/ Little Diamond, had been controlling its own finances.
The old accounting system saw the Region Four administrative office controlling the joint account, into which rates and taxes collected on a daily basis, were deposited. In order to withdraw funds from the joint account, the IMC had to get approval from the regional administrative office. In the past, especially during October, November and December, the NDC would experience difficulties with the release of funds to pay staff salaries. After constant agitation and requests the IMC was allowed to open its own account.
At present the RDC cannot provide an explanation for a hefty sum of money and it has not offered a reasonable excuse for the absence of the funds, Kumar said, adding "one million dollars for a struggling neighbourhood is plenty money." Now that the NDC has its own account, he said, it still needed approval from the Regional Executive Officer (REO) or Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development to withdraw sums over $100,000. So far the REO has been approving the release of funds.
Kumar said that when the IMC took over, the District Development Officer (DDO) with responsibility for the East Bank Demerara had a hands-off attitude. However, the IMC made a request for regular visits by the DDO and this has been happening.
He said, too, that regional councillors are invited to all statutory meetings and three of them who have responsibility for the area - Neil Kumar of the PPP/C, Dennis Glasgow of the PNCR and M. Brown of the Justice For All Party (JFAP) now attend these meetings.
Rates and taxes
To date, 45% of ratepayers have paid up their rates and taxes. Kumar said that when they lapse, it becomes difficult for the IMC to execute projects. In addition, he said, it was not fair when some persons paid and others didn't but still expected a certain standard of service.
The Eccles/Ramsburg Neighbourhood is said to be among the most economically viable because of the number of industries located there. Businesses pay a higher rate of tax than residents and the NDC has the Guyoil Bulk Station, Toolsie Persaud Ltd, Sterling Products Ltd, Texaco, Esso and Macorp among others within its jurisdiction. In addition, there is potential for revenue collection with the soon-to-be-established Eccles Industrial Estate and new housing schemes.
The IMC is currently seeking to have the Demerara Harbour Bridge made a taxable entity. Previously it was run as a government entity and not a corporation and as such it was exempt from taxation. However, Kumar said the IMC was looking at the possibility of making the entity pay taxes. He noted that whenever there were scheduled or unscheduled bridge closures and at peak periods, the community was inconvenienced and residents suffer as a result of the traffic build up in the area.
The council has to collect garbage on a timely basis and in order to execute this the council has hired a garbage disposal service. At present the neighbourhood has no landfill site. An arrangement to dispose of garbage in a sister neighbourhood fell through, leaving the Eccles/Ramsburg IMC to get rid of its garbage as best as it could. It is believed that the garbage is taken to the Mandela dumpsite in Georgetown.
The long-term solution to the garbage problem is linked to the Georgetown Solid Waste Management Facility. This will be based at Eccles and will benefit the neighbourhood. The IMC is kept updated on this project.
Littering is a problem and the IMC is not getting the type of support its needs from the community, Kumar said. To deal with this problem garbage on the parapets is collected once a month.
The Ministry of Health, Kumar said, is supposed to provide public health inspectors but it has distanced itself from the neighbourhood. Because of this the IMC cannot impose sanctions against residents without garbage receptacles.
There is no public health officer in the region. But there is an environmental health assistant based at the Grove/Diamond NDC, who reports to a regional environmental officer based at the Regional Administrative Office at Paradise, East Coast Demerara. The regional environmental officer reports to the Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health who in turn reports to the Chief Medical Officer.
The environmental health assistant, Kumar said, has the power to serve notice on public health offenders, but cannot do so because the relevant documentation is kept by his seniors. Building permits are only issued with the approval of the public health inspector. If the council issues an order and the order is ignored the public health inspector has the authority to call a halt to whatever is being executed and follow up with prosecution. On the other hand, without the public health order, the council has to employ the services of a lawyer. Kumar said that there have been no prosecutions by a public health inspector in decades.
Giving an example of the problems encountered because of the absence of a public health worker, Kumar said that about four months ago a developer left his plans with the IMC. The plans should have been approved in a matter of 21 days but this was not the case. Up to the time of this interview, the plans had not been approved. Kumar said public health inspectors wanted the IMC to take the plans and leave them at their offices to be reviewed. "I don't think plans, left by developers, should leave the neighbourhood offices", he said. He said expected the public health department to be proactive and public health inspectors to visit neighbourhood offices, but their visits were sparse.
He said, too, that because of the absence of public health certificates, there were 19 householders in Peter's Hall who were "awaiting their final certificates" in order to obtain the transports for their properties. They have already had talks with all other stakeholders. The house lot owners fear that they will die before they obtain their transports.
"If inspections are not done in a timely manner, they will have a negative effect on investment. We cannot afford to hold back people", he said. At present, the IMC is seeking to employ an inspector.
The investors, he said, are the ones who will make the difference in the neighbourhoods and the country at large. They are the ones who will pay higher rates and taxes. They will also provide the jobs to benefit the wider Guyanese community which will have a significant positive social impact.
Regional Chairman of Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) Alan Munroe, told Stabroek News that ideally each neighbourhood should have one public health inspector, but at present one was serving four NDCs in the region. He said that the government had not been training public health inspectors recently. He added that getting recommendations from the Public Health Department was a bugbear. A recommendation must be obtained before the IMC is advised by the Central Board of Health.
Drainage and irrigation
In terms of drainage and irrigation the IMC has done routine maintenance but there is need for a major overhaul of the system, Kumar said. The IMC has replaced culverts at Nandy Park, Republic Park, East Bagotstown and Providence. These have improved the drainage system and there is now low water levels in drains. It has also helped in reducing the mosquito nuisance.
Excavation of the main drainage trench in Old Eccles, west of the public road and North Bagotstown and South Eccles project has commenced. Part of the trench needs to be realigned and revetted but work will only go as far as funds permit, he said. The work will not be completed but thick vegetation in the area will be removed so that by Christmas the environment should be enhanced. This is being done by council workers and not a contractor.
The fencing of the NDC office compound is to be completed by year end. The IMC also hopes to concrete all the drains by the roadside.
The IMC, he said, was pleased that to date all the roads in the neighbourhood have been brought to the level of chip seal (or paved) roads. The village no longer has any dirt roads. As recent as last year, Kumar said there were two streets, Joan Street and Pandit Street, under the neighbourhood jurisdiction that were not paved but are now chip seal roads. Throughout the year the IMC does rehabilitation and maintenance, he said, and in the new year it hopes to step up its maintenance work.
The neighbourhood has also built a new access road from Bagotstown to Nandy Park to cater for nursery school children. Previously when the rain fell the kindergarten children walked through mud and slush to get to the school in Nandy Park.
The IMC had planned to use the $3 million government subvention to upgrade the roads in Nandy Park and Eccles but the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development advised against it and instead directed that the money be put into drainage.
The IMC also assists schools in the neighbourhood. It assists with security at the Nandy Park Nursery School. It cleans and weeds the compound of other schools in the neighbourhood and also complies with other requests once these are made within a reasonable time frame.
The neighbourhood is hoping to benefit from the four-lane East Bank highway on which work is scheduled to start shortly. Those who would be affected would be mainly those currently conducting illegal vending in the area. Some private properties may also be affected. However, Kumar said he saw the construction of the four-lane roadway as a positive move in view of the traffic congestion that builds up at peak hours. He looks forward to the completion of the road in spite of the discomfort residents may have to endure during the construction phase.
Among the difficulties the IMC faces is lack of cooperation from other agencies/entities that have to perform specific functions that will ensure the smooth functioning of the council. One of this has to do with the stray cattle nuisance.
The law states that any police officer could impound cattle, but it has been difficult to get the support of the police in this exercise, Kumar said. This is coupled with the difficulty in employing stray catchers. Attempts to round up cattle are broken up with threats and violence by thugs sent by cattle owners, he said. Though the community does not have pastures or land available for grazing, Kumar noted that there are sizeable herds in some areas. He said that the animals do not only break up the council's reserves but damage well-manicured lawns of property owners. For years, he said, people had one or two head of cattle but now, one man alone has 45 head. In spite of this cattle are not branded.
Sports and social activities
These activities are fairly successful. There are several grounds but one of the biggest is the Providence Community centre ground, which is well maintained. However, the community centre building is in a state of disrepair due to neglect.
The IMC is currently seeking assistance from the Social Impact Amelioration Project (SIMAP) to fund the development of the community centre. The IMC has been advised that the project should come on stream next year, Kumar said.
The Gibbs playfield in Republic Park, too, Kumar said was previously a jungle but the IMC has brought it to an acceptable level. It was graded and proper facilities installed, he said, noting that in the new year the IMC is looking at developing the playfield in Republic Park. At the moment it is used for basketball. The objective is to install facilities for lawn tennis and volleyball there.
According to France, the IMC has been coordinating the inputs from various sports organisations including the East Bank Demerara Cricket Association and residents of Republic Park who have been maintaining some of the playgrounds to the current level. They are also willing to participate in ventures that would help in the development of sporting and recreational facilities in the neighbourhood.
During the period when the country was rocked by the crime wave, Kumar said, people in the neighbourhood were still holding barbecues and entertaining though in a restricted manner. Bagotstown also held its village day. There were very few incidents of criminal activity.
The problem of drug abuse has surfaced in the neighbourhood and the council has to come up with a strategy to deal with this issue and to bring it under control, he said. Alcohol abuse was another problem, he said, urging social groupings to make a contribution. With the upgrading of community centres, he feels that activities could be held there by competent people to engage the young people in positive pursuits.
France noted that the IMC accommodates the National Insurance Scheme, the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, the Guyana National Bureau of Standards and the Local Board of Governors among others each month as they undertake their responsibilities in the area.
Eccles consists of North Eccles which has a new housing scheme and an industrial area which is not yet under the jurisdiction of the administration of the neighbourhood and Old Eccles which is administered and serviced by the NDC.
The IMC provides limited service to North Eccles including garbage collection but residents in that area do not pay rates and taxes at present. The garbage is moved at a minimal cost of $300 per month. Kumar said that the IMC was conscious of the need to provide other services and to have the residents conform to the rules of the neighbourhood.
Kumar said he has had discussions with Collymore about bringing the new residential and industrial areas under the purview of the neighbourhood administration, but the minister said that the time was not right. At present infrastructural works, including roads and drains, are still not in place and the council will not have the funds to execute those capital works.
However, he said the IMC would like a commitment from the Central Housing and Planning Authority or the Ministry of Housing and Water as to when the capital works will be completed and the areas handed over to the neighbourhood. He said that there are other services to be provided such as increased street lighting, but the new areas will need to be brought under the jurisdiction of the neighbourhood first.
Next Saturday: What led to the replacement of the Eccles/Ramsburg NDC by the Interim Management Committee.