Audit office query over $30M raises hackles

City Council Roundup
by Cecil Griffith
Stabroek News
March 29, 2004

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The intervention of the Auditor General's office into the way in which things are done at the City Treasurer's department sparked a heated verbal exchange between Mayor Hamilton Green and his Deputy Robert Williams on the one hand and the Town Clerk (TC) Beulah Williams.

At the centre of the disputation at last Monday's statutory meeting of the council was, who invited the Auditor General?

The TC pointed the finger to the Mayor and the deputy who is also chairman of the Finance Committee.

The Deputy Mayor in his defence used a Bible to swear to his innocence, while the 'Chief Citizen' dismissed the accusation as having no merit. But the TC was unmoved.

The Deputy Mayor explained how he met with two officials from the Auditor General's office who had drawn his attention to their inability to arrange a meeting with the Town Clerk after visiting her office at city hall.

According to councillor Williams the officers said they were there to look at a list of the persons in the employ of the council who had been given salary advances and allowances between the years 2002 and 2004. The outstanding amount has been put at $30M.

In a follow up statement the mayor said the issue was both serious and simple pointing out that the council had requested basic information from the administration which should have been provided in a timely manner.

The request for a list to be provided to the city 'fathers' and 'mother' was made some two weeks ago at the first statutory meeting for this month.

The leader of the People's National Congress Reform wing on the council, Oscar Clarke, also a member of the Finance Committee, described the situation as unfortunate noting that the issue arose out of an initiative by councillor Junior Garrett, who is also a member of the Finance Committee.

He was given the lead role in sorting out the city's finances in preparation for the 2004 budget which is yet to be presented. Councillor Clarke said the revelation that someone from the council had been in contact with the Auditor General while discussions were still taking place around the horseshoe-shaped table cast aspersions on councillor Garrett and should be condemned.

People's Progressive Party/C Councillor Fitz Agard, who leads his party's group on the council, agreed with the points made by his PNCR counterpart but held the view that the TC should have carried out the council's decision to have the list available in a timely manner. While promising to comply in time for the next statutory meeting, the TC from her utterances remained convinced that either the Mayor or his deputy had contacted the Auditor General. "I have the greatest respect for the holder of that office", she concluded.

The two circuses in town
The organisers of the Mexican circus now in Georgetown are the latest group to be discourteous to Mayor Green and the City Council.

The matter was raised at the last statutory meeting when it was disclosed that the 'chief citizen' received his invitation two hours before the opening of the show on Parade Ground or Independence Park.

Mayor Green complained that he had not been briefed by the Town Clerk on the arrangements which were made to accommodate the circus in the city.

Councillors to a man and woman wondered why they had not received invitations to attend the opening, contending that they should have been sent complimentary tickets. After all, said one councilor, "we are the custodians of this city."

An enquiry from the Mayor about the fees being paid by the circus organisers was answered by the Town Clerk. "They have been asked to pay $5,000 per day." She said it was the same amount paid by the organisers of the last circus that visited Guyana.

"This is ridiculous," was the comment from the PPP/C councillor Fitz Agard. As the grumbling continued among councillors a comment not meant for the records acknowledged "we have a circus right hereā€¦" Councillors recalled the way in which they were treated when arrangements were made for the recent visit to Georgetown of the cruise ship.

City Hall's security
Last Monday afternoon the Mayor had some scathing criticisms for the quality of security at the City Hall compound which has entries from the Avenue of the Republic, Charlotte and Regent streets.

The Chief Constable was summoned by the Mayor to give an account of the state of readiness of the City Police to protect the central operations by day and night.

She disclosed that the constabulary up to last Monday was still without a functioning communications system although the much needed equipment, batteries and chargers had been requested since October last year.

The Mayor told the meeting that over the past week he had made unscheduled visits to City Hall and had found major security lapses such as gates left unguarded and an unprepared force.

He reminded the meeting that he was once in charge of security when the PNC was in government under the late President Forbes Burnham.

How to dispose in an environmentally friendly manner the tons of garbage or to be more precise solid waste collected in the Guyana capital on a daily basis remains an elusive dream for the council. Concerns were expressed at the last statutory meeting by both the Mayor and his deputy as well as the head of the new solid waste department. The two outstanding questions, are finding a suitable site to replace the makeshift one on Mandela Avenue and the heavy financial costs which may have to be borne by the council. PPP/C councillor Elme Ishmael who resides in Lodge voiced the residents' fears of the health threat to the people living in the area.