La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders Neighbourhood
Depleted council focuses on roads, drainage and streetlights
By Miranda La Rose
January 31, 2004
The La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders Neighbourhood, West Coast Demerara comprises the sparsely populated villages of Nouvelle Flanders, La Union, Rotterdam, Harlem, Mary and Waller's Delight in the east and the more populated Ruimzeight, Windsor Forest and La Jalousie to the west.
The neighbourhood, formerly the Nouvelle Flanders/ La Jalousie Local Authority came into being in September 1970. It is now one of 13 NDCs in Region Three (West Demerara/Essequibo Islands) and is bordered on the west by the Blankenburg/Hague NDC and on the east by the Crane/Pouderoyen NDC.
The Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) has provision for an eighteen-member body. It is currently run by a six-member council because of various resignations, migrations and deaths coupled with an exhausted list of candidates who contested the last local government elections nine years ago. One third of the council's membership is required to form a quorum of the council and to hold statutory meetings. The statutory meetings are held on the second Tuesday of every month.
The Chairman of the NDC is Guyadeen and the overseer is Hardat Hardyal. There is also an assistant overseer based at the local NDC office at Windsor Forest.
The partly-renovated Windsor Forest Community Centre building. It was redone with funding from the President's Youth Choice Initiative.
Rice cultivation is the main occupation with around 4,000 acres under cultivation. Rice milling is also a major activity as well as fishing.
Overseer, Hardyal told Stabroek News that in spite of problems associated with the collection of rates and taxes and a small government subvention there have been marked improvements in the infrastructure under the NDC's tenure.
Much of the works, he said, were done either by Central Government through the various ministries based on representation by the NDC.
In 2002, the NDC obtained a $40M grant from the Social Impact Amelioration Programme (SIMAP) to upgrade most of the streets in Windsor Forest and La Jalousie Gap Road and La Jalousie Estate Road. The grant was the largest sum spent by the NDC.
The roads were built but because a few were not done in the major residential areas the NDC is continuing to expend its annual $3M subvention granted by Central Government to upgrade the other roads. In this year's budget $2.9M is earmarked for the upgrading of the roads in the Windsor Forest/La Jalousie area. Last year, the NDC upgraded the roads at La Jalousie North and Pakistan (also in La Jalousie).
The Central Government, through the Ministry of Public Works and Communications, also built a road in La Jalousie.
Street lighting is also to be installed from the subvention. Hardyal said that the remaining $100,000 was voted to purchase ten street lamps as spares for the 100 spread throughout the villages with the bulk found in the Windsor Forest, La Jalousie and Ruimzeight villages.
The NDC began its installation of street lamps in 1996 when the council first bought and installed 40. The electricity charges of $200,000 per month are borne by the NDC from the collection of rates and taxes.
Asked about the roads in other villages within the neighbourhood, Hardyal said that with the exception of Ruimzeight, which has two roads, all the others have only one main road and no internal streets. Those roads are in fairly good condition, Hardyal said.
The two clay brick roads in Ruimzeight, Middle Road and Back Street were built with $5M from the now disbanded Futures Fund.
A community group formed in Ruimzeight spearheaded the road-building project. How-ever, this was done in conjunction with the NDC.
In 2000, the Central Government through the Ministry of Agriculture constructed an all-weather road linking Windsor Forest and Ruimzeight with Pouderoyen. The seven-mile road cost some $116M. This road was built to help in the transportation of paddy to the area for milling and in the transportation of produce out of the neighbourhood.
Hardyal said that all the other villages within the NDC have good roads. The road in Harlem was built by Central Government again through representation from the NDC.
Drainage and Irrigation
In 2001, the NDC obtained a $4M grant from the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development to excavate a number of drains alongside the public road.
Guyadeen said Central Government is responsible for the drainage trenches alongside the public road but sometimes the NDC cleans the drains because residents in the NDC are affected. Farmers use the drainage trenches alongside the public road to drain their rice farms. And in areas like Harlem the drains are used for residential purposes. The NDC is currently cleaning the drains in Harlem.
Last year the NDC also received a $4.9M grant for drainage and irrigation from Central Government. In addition, the D&I Board completed the excavation of seven miles of canals within the neighbourhood. The excavation works were done around Ruimzeight, Waller's Delight and Harlem. This was meant to benefit not only the rice-growing and rice-milling areas but also the residential areas.
Less than a decade ago, flooding was a grave problem in the neighbourhood, especially in the Windsor Forest area. This was due to silting at the kokers. The NDC hired labourers to dig out the silt which was eventually pumped into the Atlantic. The administrative arm of the Region Three Regional Democratic Council (RDC) has installed a pump at the Windsor Forest koker which now drains the land whenever there is a build up.
Guyadeen said that the area does not flood like before. In addition, he said that even though the D&I board makes annual budgetary provision for the D&I system in the area, the NDC would make the necessary representation to get the work done faster if the need arises.
According to Guyadeen, everything now hinges on the NDC. Apart from the $3M subvention, this year's estimate of expenditure is $18.2M. The Region Three RDC has approved the budget. Last year it was $17.6M and in 2002 it was $14.3M.
Hardyal said that under this year's budgetary estimates two revetments and two (PVC) koker boxes would be constructed at Waller's Delight, under the NDC's D&I programme to further enhance the D&I system.
The NDC maintains the community centre building and plans to put grillwork around the building to prevent vandalism. Funding from the President's Youth Choice Initiative was allocated to wire the building for electricity but this has not been completed. The NDC intends to complete that process this year.
Completion of all work, Hardyal said, was dependent on the collection of rates and taxes. Each year, the NDC collects only about 70% and the work programme is based on total collection. There are no capital works planned based on the collection of rates and taxes. This revenue is purely for maintenance and routine office work.
The $3M subvention is received on time and spent within the fiscal year so no money is ever sent back to Central Government, Guyadeen stated. The subvention is released in two tranches.
Joint bank account
The relationship between the RDC and the NDC is fairly good, Guyadeen and Hardyal said. One of the problems, Hardyal noted was that of accounting for the neighbourhood funds. He said the La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders NDC does not have a separate bank account but deposits its funds into an account administered by the Region Three administration. He said the NDC at all times maintains its financial records reflecting revenue collected and revenue expended. These books are done on a monthly basis and in this way the NDC knows how much money it has in the joint account. He contends that there is one set of financial regulations that govern the accounting system of the NDCs and the RDCs. Both councils, he said, should know how much each NDC deposits and withdraws from the joint accounts.
According to local government regulations, the local government division of the administration of the RDC is to monitor the accounts of the NDC on a monthly basis. Monies collected each week from rates and taxes should be deposited into the account. The bank slip is taken to the local government division of the RDC and the accounting officer would verify that the funds collected from rates and taxes have been deposited.
Hardyal said that the NDCs should not depend on the RDCs to tell them how much money they have in the joint account.
In 2001, the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Harripersaud Nokta issued a circular stating that all NDCs should open their own bank account. At the time the circular had indicated that the NDCs open their account with the Guyana National Co-operative Bank (GNCB). However, a few months after Nokta's circular was sent out GNCB was divested and taken over by the National Bank of Industry and Commerce (NBIC). The issue of independent accounts was not pursued by many NDCs.
Hardyal says the disadvantage of banking in a joint account is that some NDCs may not be financially viable and the RDC may tend to prop them up using funds from the joint account. However, he said such actions were not right because ratepayers' money from another NDC were being used.
Collection of rates and taxes
Among the main defaulters on rates and taxes are the bigger businesses operating in the area. Last year the NDC took one of them to court for some $3M, which the company owed the NDC in rates and taxes. The company has accepted liability and has asked for six months to pay off the debt.
Businesses and residents pay the same amount in rates and taxes. For instance the milling complex for the Alesie Group of Companies falls under the residential area rates but being a big property, the valuation is much more than for dwelling houses. The percentage of collection is the same across the board for commercial and residential purposes.
The agricultural area has another rate and this is based on acreage. Rates collected from cultivated areas go towards grading access dams and installing boxes and pipes.
Revaluation of properties
The NDC revalued all the properties in the area in 1997 according to the 1940 system. Hardyal explained that the revaluation was not done through the Ministry of Finance's Valuation Division which last conducted a valuation exercise in 1984. The revaluation was done through the appointment of two persons as appraisers and it was based on Chapter 1:50 of the Local Government Act in which the council appoints two appraisers.
There has not been any valuation exercise by Central Government since 1984. Other NDCs depending on a valuation exercise being conducted by Central Government are not benefiting from new housing arrangements in the neighbourhoods or extensions to buildings as increases are still based on the 1984 valuation exercise.
The 1997 revaluation exercise boosted the rates collection for the La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders NDC and the average rate is about $2,500 per year per house lot. The same figure is the average per acre of cultivated land.
Overall there have been some achievements under the NDC including the establishment of a 188-acre pasture and a pound for stray cattle. However, the council is still grappling with problems of garbage disposal and alcoholism fuelled by several illegal bars. Maintaining a quorum for statutory meetings and a council without having to resort to an interim management committee is also a challenge. (See second instalment next week.)
La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders Neighbourhood (Part II)
Community spirit not party loyalty makes a better NDC -suggests overseer Hardyal
Parents working on the estimate to build the fenced walkway to the entrance of the nursery school. The portion of land in the foreground (at right) was donated to the school by the La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders NDC.
The years of not holding local government elections has taken its toll on the La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) and the 18-member council is now down to six.
The Overseer of the NDC, Hardat Hardyal says that the NDC was never a full eighteen-member council from the inception simply because two of the candidates on the electoral list never attended any of the statutory meetings and were thus officially removed.
He says local government elections should not be contested on a political party's ticket. He feels that the elections should be based on citizens within the area "putting up candidates". He suggests that groups of 25 citizens put up candidates and whoever gets the highest amount of votes would form the council. In this way there would be much more participation by the people.
Hardyal says on a political party ticket the party only selects its members to contest elections and to hold office. "If it is the PPP/C they would pick only PPP/C people, if it is PNCR they would only pick the PNCR." Others who may be genuinely interested in the affairs of the NDC are left out.
He notes that within the La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders NDC no other group apart from the PPP/C contested the elections and the party would have selected its own people even if they wanted to serve or not. He says even though the area is a stronghold of the PPP/C the party should give people, who would most likely be supporters of the party, the chance to submit themselves of their own free will to serve.
Garbage is dumped alongside the West Coast Demerara Public Road which runs through the La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders NDC.
He says from the very inception of the present council, there were two persons who were identified as councillors but who never attended a meeting. "Why are you putting up names of persons who are not interested? It makes no sense. At least if you have a candidate being put up by 25 people you can expect at least 15 to 25 persons to support that candidate."
Chairman Guyadeen is looking forward to local government elections. Right now the council is down to its minimum required for a quorum. However, he says that his term has been good. "I had no opposition from within the community." As a farmer, who takes the position of chairman seriously, Guyadeen says the $5,000 stipend is small "but we've got to do something for the people. In the mornings I ride around the area to see if people have problems. Generally, there is not too much problems." After his ride around the NDC he goes about his business. "I got to try to make a living." Nevertheless, he visits the office at least once a week.
Village system not feasible
Guyadeen says the council has no problem with the size of the area, which consists of nine villages and covers an eight-mile stretch along the West Coast Demerara Public Road. He says the council does not feel that a return to a village system would work in the NDC. Hardyal noted that the present neighbourhood is the same as when it was constituted a local authority back in 1970. He says reverting to a village system may not be wise. If Windsor Forest, one of the largest villages is to stand by itself, revenue collected from the area from rates and taxes would not be sufficient to carry out maintenance works but would cover wages for staff only. The same would apply for La Jalousie and other villages. Smaller villages may not even be able to pay staff adequately from its revenue collection
How do they arrive at decisions in the council? Guyadeen says there is no opposition to issues and most times the decisions are unanimous.
At statutory meetings, which are held on the second Tuesday of every month, regional representatives from the Drainage and Irrigation (D&I) division and the public health department attend. Other officers from the Region Three Democratic Council (RDC) also attend from time to time.
Guyadeen adds that if citizens have problems they would not wait for an invitation but would attend the meeting. On the agenda of the statutory meeting is an item called ratepayers' complaints. The council would hear the ratepayers' complaints, try to deal with them and then continue with their agenda. No one could recall any bad behaviour by citizens at the meetings. There may be complaints about other citizens but the council would call in both parties and try to find a solution.
Cattle pasture helps curb strays
It has been noted that the absence of pasture in a number of NDCs is affecting relations between the cattle farmers and the NDCs on the East Coast Demerara, East Bank Demerara and West Berbice. The fence around the pasture at the Union/Naarstigheid NDC in West Berbice was vandalised and cattle have been damaging property. Eccles/Ramsburg and Better Hope/LBI all experience problems of cattle roaming the NDCs because of the absence of a pasture. This is not the case in the La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders NDC which has a cattle farmers association which has obtained some 188 acres of land for a pasture at the back of Windsor Forest. The pasture is fenced with wire and all cattle with the exception of dairy herds are tended there.
In 1985 the then Nouvelle Flanders/La Jalousie village council applied to, and obtained permission from the Ministry of Home Affairs to establish a pound which is in the compound of the local authority office.
When Stabroek News visited last month, two cows were impounded and the owner was seen negotiating for their release. The pound tends to curb the problem of animals straying and damaging property, some residents told Stabroek News.
To have an animal released, the owner has to pay $1,000 and the person impounding it would get $500. There is no stray catcher employed by the NDC. If a farm is being damaged, the farmer can impound the cattle. The farmer would get $500. That $500 is not considered compensation. Sometimes, for compensation the farmer would sometimes seek out a local assessor to immediately assess the damage. The farmer and cattle owner would work out an arrangement for payment based on how much he would have obtained for the crop or portion that would have been damaged for the year or the period. The assessments are done, either independently or in consultation with the police. The matters do not often reach the courts.
The butcher and the schoolchildren
The NDC and the La Jalousie Parent Teachers Association are moving to take steps to control what Chaitram says is a health risk to the very young children attending the school.
Cows ready for slaughter at a butcher in the area are generally tied to a number of utility poles in the vicinity of the school and to the school's fence.
Parents say the animals hinder the children from entering the school compound. The NDC has granted the PTA permission to further fence the land in front of the school building and to build a walkway so that the children would not have to use the entrance from the head of the street where some cows are also tied. The building materials are being provided by the NDC and the labour by the PTA.The situation with the cows, they admit, is more under control than before given the intervention of the Environmental Health Officer and the NDC.However, the staff at the school would like the butcher to desist from tying the cows to the school fence, especially during the weekends and holidays, as they make a mess. The dung of the cows is also dumped into the nearby trench and adds to the stench, say teachers.
A lot of garbage is imported
The disposal of garbage is a major problem for the NDC. While most of the village appears clean, the West Coast Public Road and its trenches are littered with garbage ranging from kitchen waste, tree limbs and dead animals.
Coming out of Vreed-en-Hoop there are large piles of garbage at Nouvelle Flanders and at La Union. The Environmental Officer, Mohan Chaitram says residents from the NDC do not create those dump sites and they come from vendors or people with vehicles, who cannot dump their refuse in Vreed-en-Hoop, but dump them within the NDC as they pass by.
The NDC had a meeting with the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Harripersaud Nokta last month and he has advised that the NDC come up with a plan for garbage disposal.
Hardyal says the NDC has identified 20 acres of land in the vicinity of the pasture behind Windsor Forest to be used as a garbage dump. This proposal was put to the government since 2002 but up to now it has not acquired the funds to execute the project.
In the meantime, residents either burn or bury their domestic garbage. Chaitram visited households in the NDC advising on what course they should take. However, he notes that there are house lots without land space to burn and bury. Most likely the resident occupying those lots would dump their garbage on the roadside, he says.
Chaitram also notes that each month the NDC hires a truck to pick up the garbage off the roadside, the street heads and alongside the trenches and also to grade the dumpsite with a backhoe.
He notes that although a landfill site was identified the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was still to approve it.
The rice mill also contributes to dust pollution particularly during the dry season and when there is a strong breeze.
Hardyal feels that the annual $3M subvention is inadequate to tackle the garbage problem as well as other capital works. He feels $6M annually would go a far way in dealing with some of the problems. To deal with the garbage, he says the NDC would need a backhoe and that would cost about $6M. There would be need for a tractor and trailer for garbage collection and the land would need to be developed.
Guyadeen says sometimes the NDC would get an additional grant based on a request and at other times the request would be denied. He notes that the NDC requested a $1M grant from the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development to repair the building that houses the NDC but has not obtained it.
The NDC building is in dire need of repairs and the money accrued from rates and taxes cannot meet the cost of the work involved.
Crane 'refugees' squat by seawall
Two squatter settlements are developing within the NDC - one at Windsor Forest and the other at Waller's Delight. There are about 18 houses on the Sideline Dam between Windsor Forest and La Jalousie and another 22 to 25 north of the Public Road at Waller's Delight. The squatting area at Waller's Delight is close to the sea and prone to flooding at high tide.
Hardyal says that the squatters were given house lots at Crane Housing Scheme in the neighbouring Crane/Pouderoyen NDC but it is alleged that another set of squatters occupied the lots forcing those issued with lots to take refuge in the La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders NDC.
He says the NDC has to take some decisions regarding the squatters, which is an issue for the Ministry of Housing and Water as well. The structures, he notes, "look very bad" and are in full view of the West Coast road.
Teens drinking in the morning
Drug abuse is not a problem within the community but alcoholism is.
Hardyal feels that this is due to the authority giving permission to too many licences for beer gardens. On the other hand some persons are operating illegally and when told about it Hardyal says they become abusive.
It was noted on three visits to the community that a number of young people were drinking at a beer garden on the Windsor Forest Public Road at 10 am.
Some residents admit alcohol is a problem among young people and many adults as well. They claim that the heavy consumption leads "to all kinds of quarrels, fighting and misunderstandings, parental abuse, child abuse and spousal abuse." One youth feels it is a matter that the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security or non-governmental organisations should look into. Guyadeen says the NDC would be willing to help any organisation deal with the problem.
The NDC already works with a group of young people to promote the President's Youth Choice Initiative. The group obtained a $3 million grant to repair the Windsor Forest Community Centre. Though the youth group no longer functions, a lot of young people now use the facilities at the community centre especially on an afternoon and on the weekends. The NDC is putting together material for the construction of an all-weather court, which will be used for basketball, lawn tennis and volleyball among other games. The community centre is now managed by a group called "the Centre Team".Within the neighbourhood, too, can be found a community policing group and there are a number of religious groups.
Utility services in the NDC are fairly reliable. Up to last April, only residents and a few businesses within the NDC had telephones. The NDC donated a portion of land at Windsor Forest for the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) Company to construct a building to house the telephone exchange.The majority of residents at Windsor Forest, La Jalousie, and Ruimzeight and even the smaller villages now have phones.
The water service is fairly reliable and residents benefit from an interconnected system at Pouderoyen and Den Amstel. The treatment plant at Pouderoyen came into operation in 2001. Water is not rationed as is done in many other parts of the country. Other services include a health centre in Windsor Forest, a primary school and two nursery schools at Windsor Forest and La Jalousie. Some people from Harlem, Waller's Delight and other areas closer to Crane would send their children to Crane Nursery which is outside of the NDC. Previously the Windsor Forest Nursery school was housed in the Community Centre building which is now used for indoor games such as table tennis.