Some businesses do not pay their rates

Dear Editor,

Mr Nazar Mohamed is quite right about the state of affairs of the city of Georgetown (‘The M&CC and the local government ministry should clean the city; businesspeople and others should join the call for local government elections‘ SN, December 1). One would have thought that the interconnectedness of the world would have encouraged all local communities to adopt practices that are reflective of certain high moral and environmental values, including the way we treat our environment and the city as a whole.  Sadly, in spite of modern facilities to travel and advances in communication technologies which have virtually turned our world into one shared social space, we in Georgetown are still grappling with basic things like improper disposal of garbage and illegal dumping. Whatever steps we take to counter illegal dumping invariably end up looking like too little because of the enormity of the problem.  It is not only visible in vulnerable and poor communities, but also in rich ones. The rich as well as the poor are involved in this unfriendly environmental practice.

Unfortunately, littering and bad environmental practices are structured deep into our lifestyles. Cleaning-up exercises and other such campaigns (we have had many) would not yield the desired result, which is a sustainable clean and healthy Georgetown.  Not while there is no system in force to treat expeditiously with litterbugs, or there is no code of conduct with the ability to sanction companies that cannot account for the disposal of their waste. Every junkie arrested by the constabulary confessed that they were paid by some businessman to dump their stuff. Some businessmen even provide bail to get them out of the station. What is wrong with us?

Solid waste management accounts for 11% of our total income for 2012. We spend almost 1 million dollars per day to clean up garbage. This is only one service we provide to the city. There are many more including maternal and child welfare, drainage, roads, street lighting, meat and food inspections, markets, environmental health and allied services and law enforcement. As a result, our meagre resources have been overstretched.

This leads to the important point on the remittance of rates by property-owners. Mr Mohamed stated in his letter, “Nevertheless, each year property owners and business establishments are forced to remit to City Hall large sums of money in dues, rates and taxes, while most of us would never witness our garbage or drains being cleared by employees of City Hall.” The uncomfortable truth is that the rates applied to properties in this city are in some cases ridiculously low. In fact, many businesses-owners have said that much to us. This immediately puts us at a serious disadvantage and constrains our ability to fulfil our mandate to citizens.

Again, some property-owners who have changed their places from residential to commercial are still paying residential rates. Of course City Hall must blame itself for that because it ought to have systems in place to capture such situations. Still, we are faced with that reality and it is affecting the way we perform. Add to that the fact that we have not had valuation of properties in Georgetown for more than two decades; the new types of waste the council must now treat with, including styrofoam and plastic; and the fragility of our drainage system exacerbated by certain events related to climate change, and the financial plight of the city becomes clearer to all.

We would reveal now that, while many corporations have been paying their rates to the council others have not been honouring this social responsibility for years.  As a result, we find Mr Mohamed’s comments on rates paid by property-owners and lack of service by the council a bit unfair. Nevertheless, he has brought to the fore the contentious point concerning which comes first – the chicken or the egg. If property-owners do not pay their rates then council cannot provide services. If council does not provide services then property-owners would be reluctant to pay their rates.

We believe that the way to approach it is by cooperation and partnerships. If corporations, organizations and other stakeholders partner with the council then they would be in a good position to see and to know exactly what the council is doing with the monies it has been collecting. Further, they would be able to help the council by making suggestions and sharing ideas with the operatives at City Hall. Together we can overcome the challenges facing the city and advance the interests of Georgetown to make it a better place for us and the next generation.

We wish to make one final point on Mr Mohamed’s call for local government elections. He is absolutely right and we agree with him fully.  The last local government elections were held in 1994. However, these elections must flow out of the context of reforms. Otherwise the problems extant in our city will spill over to the next council and they too will be terribly affected in their efforts to lift Georgetown out of the economic, ecological and environmental doldrums it has been struggling in for decades. Remember together we can win. Cooperation is vital to achieving that victory.

Yours faithfully,
Royston King
Public Relations
Mayor and City Council

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