New approach paying dividends in Region Six - Chairman
Water management for close scrutiny By Daniel Da Costa
Stabroek News
January 29, 2004

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Former PPP/C Member of Parliament, Kumkarran Ramdass on assuming the office of Regional Chairman, Region Six (East Berbice/ Corentyne) back in February 2003 introduced a new administrative approach in the mainly agricultural region on the eastern edge of the Guyana coastline. He says it is based on consultation, education and collaboration.

And today he is reporting major success as a result of this innovative approach to the region's development. In an interview with this newspaper last Monday, the chairman recalled that when he took office there was little attention being paid to drainage and irrigation.

"Over the past year we have been able to change that perception and improve relations between the administration and the people we serve through a series of outreach programmes and consultation."

The approach has also seen an improvement in the relations between the administration and the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association (BCC&DA), Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and Community Development Councils (CDCs).

"At the level of the Regional Democratic Council (RDC) the quality of our debate has been elevated and today councillors on both sides of the political divide discuss issues impartially and avoid haggling over partisan politics," he explained.

Last year the administration successfully completed 95 percent of its targeted programme and through savings was able to fund an additional five capital projects apart from the 12 originally planned.

The outreach programmes undertaken last year saw several meetings being held across the region with farmers, businesspersons, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders. At these meetings the administration took the opportunity to explain its plans and programmes for the ensuing year, sought responses, criticisms and suggestions from the floor and solicited the co-operation of all. This year according to Ramdass these consultations will continue and hopefully bear more fruit.

This year the administration also intends to continue its programmes of improving drainage and irrigation across the region but will concentrate a bit more on the East Bank of Berbice, where farmers have long complained about neglect, and the central Corentyne area. According to the chairman there is tremendous potential in several villages within the central Corentyne area for the production of cash crops but this has been stifled.

He is however concerned about the management of the region's drainage and irrigation systems, which is pivotal to the final cost of production. "We intend to concentrate this year a bit more on water management and control, a process which began last year." Towards this end the four main regulators in the four polders of Black Bush have been rehabilitated while NDCs are being given the authority to monitor and supervise sluice attendants in the employ of the regional Drainage and Irrigation Board.

"We however need the co-operation of farmers and are pleading with them not to interfere with the regulators which provide irrigation water for the entire Polder and the front lands. Improved management last year, he said, saw a decrease in the incidence and extent of flooding across the region compared to previous years when farmers suffered considerably. Some 30,000 acres of paddy are cultivated in Black Bush Polder and within the Nos.52-74 villages.

Asked about widespread concerns over the quality of work being executed in the region by some contractors, Ramdass said he is still "apprehensive about whether we are getting our money's worth from some contractors. However we have been insisting that our officers and members of the Works Committee pay regular unscheduled visits to work sites to ensure that contractors adhere to specifications and established standards."

Yet he was quick to point out that "it is very difficult to monitor more than 100 projects across the length and breadth of the region with the limited resources available." The Works Committee is comprised of both PPP/C and PNC/R councillors and has stepped-up its inspection rate significantly over the past year.

Over the next few months the administration will also focus on improving infrastructure in housing areas, Ramdass said, noting it as an area which has attracted some criticism from house lot owners.

The management of the education sector according to the chairman remains an area of worry for his administration. Efforts are however being made through the recently established Regional Education Committee to improve the situation. According to Ramdass the administration has delegated some of its authority to the committee which has the mandate to monitor and assess effectiveness, undertake supervisory visits, determine priority needs, assist in conducting inspections of buildings and compounds and convene face-the-community meetings, among other responsibilities.

Recently approval was granted for the recruitment of some 60 teachers to fill vacancies in schools across the region. An estimated 55 percent of the teachers in the region's education system are said to be trained but concerns continue to mount over migration, discipline and the management of many of the region's schools.

A stabbing incident at a recent school sports at Corriverton has attracted the attention of the chairman who says he plans to fully investigate the incident. He has also expressed disappointment over the sale of alcoholic beverages at these meetings despite the issuance of a circular to all heads notifying them that such beverages should not be sold.

"Someone will have to answer for this violation since it has been made clear that alcohol should not be sold at events sponsored by schools." A number of schools have in the past openly sold alcoholic beverages at these meetings and to students. Several of these events go late into the night and in one case the police were forced to intervene to quell a disturbance by firing shots in the air.