By Mario Joseph
Being deprived of the opportu-nity to decide who takes care of their community for 20 years, the residents of the Diamond/ Grove Neighbourhood Demo-cratic Council (NDC) have joined the call for Local Government Elections, even comparing the PPP’s actions to that of the PNC in denying the country democracy.
The Diamond/Grove Neigh-bourhood Democratic Council office located just opposite the Grove Police Station on Grove Station Street is comprised of 11 councillors, with eight persons emanating from the PPP and the other three from the Diamond Grove Improvement Committee (DGIC) – the community-based group that contested the election in 1994. The DGIC, led by Patrick Roberts, won a total of 6 seats out of a total of 18 during the last local government elections, with their membership declining after the death of their councillors and resignations. The PPP won the majority of other seats.
The East Bank NDC is responsible for the area North-bounded by the Little Diamond Burial Ground, South-bounded by the last bridge on 110th Street between Craig and Grove, West by the Demerara River and East by the GUYSUCO cross dam. They are accountable for the maintenance of some seven schools, one health centre, five playgrounds and two cemeteries. Also within their jurisdiction are two police stations, one hospital and one fire service station for which they’re responsible for light maintenance. In their possession to do the work of the community are two tractors, one rehabilitated recently, a compact garbage truck under resuscitation and a $12.5M dual purpose excavator/backhoe loader machine, recently purchased. The NDC also has within its resources some 15 workers and 5 administrative staff including the Overseer, Parmanand Baboolall.
Baboolall, described the work of the council as much improved during his tenure which began on April 30th 2012. He said that the council was in possession of some $2.2M when he assumed his role, but ended that year with $10M in the bank. He said that he was able to procure the dual purpose excavator/backhoe loader at a cost of $12.5M and do much needed drainage works, parapet clearing and other routine work of the council, despite the deficiencies. Proud of the 2013 budget, Baboolall revealed that total revenue earned stood at some $54M, with 90-95% coming from Rates and Taxes and total expenditure at $59M.
Citing some of the challenges the council faces, Baboolall said that poor roads are most prominent because of the expense associated with redoing them. With some optimism he said that there is much that the government can and should do to alleviate this and other challenges, since the Ministry of Local Government asked the council to submit the names of the roads requiring major repairs within the Grove community. Other challenges faced by the council include the littering problem by residents and on a larger scale, by unreasonable businessmen, who pay junkies to dump their garbage but don’t care where the junkies place it, empty house lots that have much overgrown foliage that extends to the drains and parapets, and the time delay caused by bureau-cracy of the Local Government, whereby expenditure of over $99,000 requires the Minister’s approval. A further challenge the overseers says the council faces is outdated legislation citing these examples: “the council has no authority to remove illegal structures, forbid domestic farming which pollutes the communities with stray animals roaming and defecating about and the $20 littering fine which does nothing to deter littering”. The latter he said will be addressed by the local government legislation passed by Parliament but unapproved by the President.
Councillor for the past 20 years, Patrick Roberts, described the current state of the council as weak and debilitated given the actions of the PPP/C government through the Ministry of Local Government. He said that councillors become frustrated with what is being done to stifle the authority of the local democratic organ and so leave, thus further reducing their ability to function. He said today the council is not as creative as it once was since they only attend the monthly statutory meeting held every fourth Tuesday at 15:00 hours for attending sake and that the sub committees are inactive.
Responding to questions about Local Government Elections, Roberts who is now an Alliance For Change Member said that he wants the election to be called as soon as tomorrow. Roberts is so confident that he has the support of the Diamond/Grove commu-nities, he said that you can go anywhere and mention his name and you would only be met with positive remarks of him being a real community man. Roberts said that winning would definitely be easy and that is the reason the PPP/C government does not want to call the elections. He further explained that the restriction of the elections is due to the slipping power of the Minister of Local Government.
What the Residents say
Several bold residents, overcome with frustration, went on record with Stabroek News as they voiced their concerns over unaddressed community problems.
An elderly security guard, named Everton London, of 230 Third Street, Grove Squatting Area spoke eloquently as it regarded local democracy. He said this, “There needs to be change, and people have got to get involved and if you don’t vote then there would be no change. In essence the PPP government did exactly what the PNC did. I am a 62 year old man and I have experienced it both. One denied us General Elections for 28 years and the other denied us Local Government Elections for 20 years. We need a change and they need to let us vote.” He went to say that what’s great about democracy is that you get the opportunity to put someone else in which ever office if they don’t perform. But the country has not had this opportunity for 20 years which is wrong and the reason the communities are deteriorating.
Resident and grocery shop owner of Lot 6 Post Office Street, North East Grove, who gave her name as B. Mohabeer, said that the worst problem she faces is the flooding after just 10 minutes of rain. This problem she attributed to the clogged drains on the Public Road where a popular furniture store is located. She said that she is forced to clean the drains herself just so that the floodwaters could run off of her property and the street. She also complained about the terrible condition of hers as well as other roads in her community. In addition to the above she complained about the mass dumping of garbage by business people on her street corner next to Bounty Supermarket on the Public Road.
Mohabeer bears a reasonable understanding of the work of her NDC and said that they do some work but could do much more especially since she complains quite frequently to no end. When prompted to speak on Local Government Elections, she said that the 20 years that democracy was stolen from her and her neighbours is half her life span and demanded that the government not make her wait another two decades.
A construction contractor who resides at Lot 280 Fourth Street, Grove Squatting Area, named Nandir Ishmael, said that his street is full of potholes, trenches filled with garbage and bush and that his personal garbage is sometimes not collected, which forces him to burn it, upsetting his neighbours. In commenting on the NDC, he said he knows what they’re supposed to do but he also knows what they don’t do. He said that they’re doing a reasonable job but need to better supervise the field workers since he knows several that report for work but don’t do a thing. This, he says, gives the council the false impression that the work they were sent to do was done and since they don’t check to ensure that the work was indeed done leaves it undone and in some cases improperly done. When asked about LGE, he said, “We can’t have one set of people there for 20 years. Hold the elections ASAP! We need people to take care of the community and we need to decide who we put there to do it.”
Resident of Grove for 35 years, Nazim Ragim of Lot 20 First Street Grove Squatting Area said that he faces lots of personal problems starting with the streets that resemble back dam roads, slow water pressure, garbage dumping by businesses and a water-logged cemetery with no drainage. These problems he said can be addressed by the NDC whose function he was knowledgeable about, as he rated their performance just below reasonable. He has never attended a council meeting but complained that the community members don’t know when the meetings are and posited that the council should make an official announcement inviting them to the meetings. This, he said, used to be done in the past but sadly stopped some time ago. Relating his thoughts about LGE, he said that the government is dragging their foot on the issue because they want to be involved in everything. Explaining his knowledge of local government he said that it reduces the people’s dependency on central government and this is what they don’t want. Highlighting the importance of voting, he said “Everybody must vote, otherwise they let others decide for them and this is how the criminals get into power, when you let the wrong people put them there.”
A Kaneville resident of the 2-3 feet deep corrugated road called Toucan Drive, complained of the exact problems faced by the North East and Squatting Area of Grove. Melissa Johnson said that she lives on possibly the worst street in the country, with deep waves stretching the entire estimated 500 metre road. The mother of two said that the road is so bad that one time a pregnant woman had to walk to the end to get a car to go to the hospital because cars don’t usually want to drive in the street. When asked about Local Government Elections, she had this to say, “It is completely wrong for the government to deprive us of the elections. We need change and this is the reason I have to live on this bruk up road.”
From a resident’s point of view, Overseer, Parmanand Baboolall said this, “Local Government Elections is definitely due. I’ve discussed this issue with the residents who have definitely compared the two regimes who have both done something similar with one doing it for 28 years and the other for 20 years. Two wrongs don’t make a right, so this behaviour needs to stop, especially since we’re getting more civilized. We need fresh people in public offices because if we continue with the same old people with the same old mentality, there would be no positive change and no improvement. To this cause, the call for LGE, most residents, including myself are supporting.