A Christmas wish for a return of civic pride
I was there when Mr Joseph Harmon MP, made an impassioned plea at the General Council meeting of the Peoples National Congress Reform (PNCR), for the council to pass a motion, calling for all stakeholders, including the Ramotar administration to mount a massive clean-up campaign, to “scrub” the city clean, prior to the Christmas holidays. The motion was passed unanimously and later I travelled with Mr Harmon (APNU Shadow Minister for Public Works) to several wards of the city, where he met residents and community leaders, and got a commitment from them to engage in self-help activity to clean-up their personal surroundings and their neighbourhoods. The residents asked that the private sector or the government assist with tools and other technical assistance; they were prepared to work. I attended two meetings at the City Hall. At the first meeting it was acknowledged by all (including the Mayor), that things were at a critical point, and the cleaning up of the city had reached the stage where it was no longer a municipal problem, but instead, a national priority. Letters were sent to the President, his cabinet, government agencies, members of the diplomatic corps, the Joint Services, the Private Sector, political parties and several other stakeholders, asking them to attend a meeting that would address the cleaning up of the capital city. At the second meeting there were representatives from all ten wards of the city; members of the diplomatic corps, and several other interested parties. There were several speakers, but the theme was the same, the city was in a mess and a ten-day campaign would be mounted to give it a facelift. It was acknowledged that the Drainage and Irrigation personnel (central government) were engaged in a three-day cleaning of drains, and certain section of the city. This exercise was applauded, but all acknowledged that the scope and scale of the clean-up of Georgetown, needed a more comprehensive approach.
Even though I was disappointed that the Ramotar administration did not embrace the cleaning up of Georgetown, and important entities like the Guyana Defence Force did not send representatives to the meeting, I was cautiously optimistic. This optimism however quickly died, when I made a tour of all ten wards of the city and inspected all of the major canals. What I found was a situation that called for a declaration of war. The small army of the willing were no match for what in my mind was a truly Herculean task.
The neglect of decades, the mis-education, the mountains of garbage and the mounds of litter and debris that seem to decorate every street corner and every front yard; the non-existent inter-locking drainage system, the clogged canals that were not only silted up, but filled with all manner of waste, flotsam and plant-life; this clearly screamed for some type of Marshall Plan, if the Capital City of Georgetown was to ever return to its status as Garden City of the Caribbean. I was right, for the effort we mounted failed.
Christmas is here, our relatives and friends are here, tourists are here and our city remains stink and nasty. I was in Parliament and heard the Minister responsible for tourism defending the building of the Marriott Hotel. It was his opinion that that hotel would bring tourists and enhance the nation’s image with the international travelling class. I share a different view. It is my view that infrastructure that is reliable, a clean and attractive city, a well educated people and friendly populace and a safe and secure environment would attract not only tourists, but also investors and remigrants. It is sad and I think an opportunity lost, that we did not clean the city up. With much nostalgia I remember the clean-up campaigns of the seventies, where the Prime Minister and his cabinet led the charge, where the military and para-military got involved and citizens came out and participated in numbers. Maybe it was the leadership that inspired us to act, maybe it was just a different time, and maybe it was the pride we took in being Guyanese and being proud of everything Guyanese, including our city, Georgetown. Whatever it was, somewhere along the way we have lost it. So, my Christmas wish would be for a return of that spirit of nationalism, of civic pride and an end to the kind of politics and politicians that harbour a city like Georgetown.