-says new blood needed after 20 years
By Mario Joseph
After being in the post for 20 years, the Chairman of the Beterverwagting/ Triumph Neighbourhood Democratic Council agrees that there is an urgent need for local government elections and residents there have made the usual types of complaints that have beset community governance for the last two decades.
Bruce Adams, Chairman of the NDC, acknowledged the inability of the council to function effectively and said he is ready to move on and let new blood step in.
This East Coast NDC is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north, south by the East Demarara Water Conservancy, west by a common dam between La Bonne Intention and Beterverwagting and east by a common dam between Mon Repos and Triumph. It has a large health centre, a market, a playground, two nursery schools, one primary, one secondary school, a resource centre and a burial ground.
Good fortune allowed the newspaper to interview the chairman when it was discovered that Market Road, the location of the Beterverwagting Market and the Council was ironically the worst in the neighbourhood. Adams acknowledged the state of the road calling it himself, “the worst in the village”. Giving some insight into the difficulties he faced, he explained that plans had been made to repair the road in 2012/2013 through a Government subvention via the Caribbean Development Bank’s Basic Needs Trust Fund. This, however was changed when Adams said that the Regional Executive Officer, Deolall Rooplall had the responsibility transferred to him but never executed it. Adams further explained that he had made attempts to bring the matter up but consistent lack of opportunity prevented him from doing so effectively. This, he said, is just one of the untold difficulties he faces and his councillors are reminded of their inability to effectively address the needs of the community every time they have to use that road to attend their monthly statutory meeting,
Adams, who speculated that he may be the longest serving NDC chairman in Guyana, explained the challenges he faces in the role, citing the lack of councillors. According to the original composition/structure of the council, there are supposed to be 18 councillors but at present only 12 serve. Of the 12 councillors, 9 are from the community, some of whom are replacements with two from the PPP/C, whilst the rest have migrated, resigned or died. The NDC, he explained, functions with him as head, supported by a vice chairman and the councillors with two main sub committees, namely, Finance and Works. A shortage of councillors coupled with a high turnover of
administrative staff are just the beginning of the council’s troubles.
Another key problem facing the council is inadequate funding, with their chief source being the collection of Rates and Taxes which amounted to some $12M in 2013. He however explained that last year, they caught a lucky break and were able to expend a total of $66M because of the sale of lands. This break still could not fill the funding gaps to address the needs of the community, he said. The council also collects funds from other sources such as market vendor fees, rent from playgrounds and community centres among other sources. One of the recently passed local government reforms Acts aims to strengthen the financial autonomy of NDCs.
Amidst the challenges faced by the council is the difficulty in prosecuting delinquent community members for rates and taxes. Another problem is the high cost associated with
disposal of solid waste.
Rating the performance of the council over his tenure as moderate, Adams highlighted the major success his work has ushered in. In 1994 Adams said he pioneered the development of a housing block in Granville Park and a one-mile road at Section B Triumph called Plantain Walk. In 2012/2013, the complete rehabilitation of the village playground was facilitated by ANSA McAl and the Office of the President. In 2013 the NDC delivered a fully furbished pavilion with wash rooms and changing rooms on the
playground and finally the rehabilitation of the Beterverwagting Sideline Dam through the Basic Needs Trust Fund.
Offering an alternative to the cash-strapped council, Adams posited that the Government intervene to compensate for the once robust sugar industry which saw the community thrive some years ago. He is recommending that the government solicit the aid of organisations like the Inter-American Develop-ment Bank to clean the canals and clear the six miles of farmlands so that agriculture can be revived and the country can take one step closer to becoming the food basket of the Caribbean.
Shifting gears to Local Government Elections (LGE), Adams called the situation, “Very bad for democracy”. Adams said that new blood is desperately needed in the councils, as it would bring new ideas and innovations especially with the advent of new technology. Referring to himself as a man dedicated to the community he loves, he said that that was the only reason he remained in the position for the past 20 years. To testify to his commitment, Adams disclosed his monthly stipend as being only $7,500 which would cause anyone to lose interest, and even feed corruption, according to him. “These meagre accommodations have to change if they expect the new blood to abstain from corrupt practices”, he said.
Residents expressed their dissatisfaction with the work the council is doing, citing the irregular and infrequent collection of garbage, the deplorable roads, the trenches engulfed
in weeds and garbage, the lack of street lights and a poorly maintained cemetery. A significant number of residents spoken to by Stabroek News had a very limited understanding of the duties and responsibilities of the council especially when one of those individuals owned and operated a stall just below the office of the council. Some residents expressed their understanding that only some good work can be done by the council and that they don’t expect them to fix everything, but all were still dissatisfied.
Residents, relating to LGE were mostly baffled at the term, but after being enlightened on the subject one said: “20 years? That is disappointing… Democracy is dysfunctional in Guyana”. A landlord in the community said; “It is quite unfair to us to have these elections withheld from us… One set of persons shouldn’t be in office that long”. A new council employee said; “A whole heap of corruption going on in there… We supposed to have elections!” A mother and a housewife said “Let the elections happen, we want new people in there… I would go do it because it just takes common sense to make the right decisions to address the community’s needs”.
In the village of Triumph one resident, calling himself Shaggy, inquired of Stabroek News the reason for photographing their broken bridge, when the bigger problem was, the large and long trench under the bridge which was filled with bush because it wasn’t dug for years. Shaggy who was in a rush said that he doesn’t have much knowledge about the work of the local councils or about Local Government Elections. He however explained that most poor people can’t understand because they have to work hard to make a dollar and have little time to spend paying attention to these things. This seemed to be a common sentiment as Stabroek News interviewed more and more residents.