Mayor denounces 'political chess game' being played with city

Stabroek News
December 28, 2006

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City Mayor Hamilton Green says from recent statements by President Bharrat Jagdeo it was apparent "that the state hierarchy in dealing with the city, is driven by the philosophy of hegemony, one wedded to political, and perhaps ethnic domination and he also decried what he said was a political chess game.

In an advertisement titled 'Facts every citizen should know about the Georgetown Municipality - the Sorry State of Affairs', Green said that for years he had deemed it prudent to cooperate with the government in an environment of peace but what is now seen is a game of chess "being played before our eyes."

Efforts to contact Prime Minister Sam Hinds and Minister of Local Government Kellawan Lall yesterday for comment on Green's statement proved futile.

Green reiterated charges made before that on assuming office he initially proposed a city lottery and negotiations got underway. At a meeting with the then acting Head of State, President Bharrat Jagdeo, the town clerk, Beulah Williams and then PPP/C councillor Philomena Sahoye-Shury, he said, they were told that the government could not support a lottery because "they feared strong opposition from the religious community and as was put to us, criticisms from those 'puritans' in our society."

Green described that move as a good chess move adding that within a few short months the idea was hijacked and a national lottery was up and running with the profits being utilized at the behest of Central Government.

Several efforts were made to broaden the city's revenue base without putting pressure directly on taxpayers and without exception they were all denied by central government, he said.

The efforts included a container tax; a share of the vehicle and environmental taxes - the city collects and disposes of one third of the plastics used in the country - a municipal court to expedite cases; a ticket system; and the introduction of parking meters.

The parking meters were intended to ease congestion and to bring in some revenue and Green said the city consulted with the traffic department and had discussions with a developer to install the meters in the business district.

Everything was set for the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the prospective developer when minutes before, a letter was delivered by hand from the then Minister of Local Government and Regional Development "instructing us to hold - go no further. Government was looking into the matter." Since then no action has been taken.

The mayor opined that the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) cutting off electricity supply to key places operated by the municipality appears to be part of the chess game.

He said that on December 5, 2006, the city wrote to Prime Minister Sam Hinds stating that GPL owed the city taxes in excess of the electricity charges, the majority of which was for street lighting.

The city has not yet had a response from the Prime Minister and was traumatized by GPL subsequently cutting off the supply to several key locations.

Earlier, the city proposed to charge GPL "a modest fee for their use of our parapets. The government intervened and disallowed this proposal", he said noting that "every business pays for every square inch of land it uses."

Stating that the municipality has been chided for poor financial management, he said that coming from the same source that has the authority to correct the problems, such statements may well be self-serving.

Apart from not getting approval from the subject minister to recruit a qualified legal practitioner to improve the ability to deal with a number of related issues, Green said, the council was still awaiting the approval of $50 million from the government agreed to since March of this year.

Contending that the $10 million the government gave has not yet been properly accounted for by the city administration and that for years he has pleaded with the powers that be to deal with corruption and lawlessness by the city administration "that has become audacious and untouchable," Green said that "The connection between the government and City Hall's top brass is now evident."

Some examples known to the subject minister and the President, Green said, include the awarding of contracts involving millions of dollars for goods and services ignoring all tender and administrative procedures with the most recent being monies given by the President for the enhancement of the city including its avenues.

He expressed the hope that the contracts recently awarded by the government to "lift" several city avenues include securing the integrity of the drainage in the areas.

Other examples Green gave were the protracted arrangements for the purchase of stun guns from the UK, ignoring opportunities for cheaper sources such as the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) offer, the USA, Brazil and China; and the purchase of a used American left hand drive car against his advice, which after a few months in use was left to rot.

He said that because of these concerns the government had agreed that whenever additional funds were made available, special arrangements would have been put in place to monitor disbursement but this was not done and instead it was "business as usual."

He also referred to two employees - the sons of a PPP/C city councillor - who were dismissed with the approval of the council but who were reinstated based on instructions received from the Minister of Local Government and Regional Development.

Green argued, too, that the treasurer's department operates as "a separate fiefdom" with the result that the tax records have been compromised. "They have refused to adhere to a council decision to be part of a standardization process with regard to computer hardware purchases and to link in with the council's central computer network."

In spite of the constraints, he said, over time, the council sought to put in place plans to better manage the city based on recommendations from the Liburd report, which dealt primarily with the City Engineer's Department, and the SV Jones Report.

Town Clerk, Beulah Williams was mandated to put up workable proposals for a restructuring programme but this has now fallen off the council's agenda.

Noting that Georgetown was the "window through which people still look at us" Green in wrapping up his assessment of the state of affairs said to the President and his colleagues that "to be remembered kindly by posterity, do not try to 'bestride the world like a Colossus' to micromanage all aspects of national life. With the fact of racial voting, true democracy is not the five-year event of elections."

He urged the PNCR, the JFA, ACDA, WPA, ROAR and religious groups, social groups and civil society to set aside their real or perceived differences and help put the city and the state on the road to real peace and prosperity.