(This is the 10th in a series on the state of local government)
By Mario Joseph
The Bartica Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC), currently managed by an Interim Management Committee (IMC) installed in May of 2012 believes that they have set the standard for other IMCs and elected NDCs in terms of management of their communities. Some residents, however have a starkly different view, complaining about ineffective garbage management, poorly maintained drains and bush-filled roadways, among other non NDC responsibilities.
The IMC installed by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic government after a controversial dismissal of the former NDC, believes
that the Government made the right move as they have exemplified the traits of a well-managed community in tune with and responsive to the views and dilemmas of the residents. They say that they have replaced a NDC that has demonstrated gross incompetence, abuse of power and poor community infrastructure. Some residents, however disagree, saying that nothing has changed, with one even saying that things have gotten worse.
The Bartica NDC north-bounded by the Essequibo River, south by a forest that begins at Dog Point Road, west by the Mazaruni River and east by the Essequibo River is responsible for some 5sq. miles encompassing communities such Central Bartica, Byderabo and Dog Point. They estimate the population of the area they’re responsible for at 8,000 persons. Within their management responsibility are the maintenance of one market, two vendor’s arcades, an abattoir, five nursery schools, three primary schools, two secondary schools, a community centre, two playgrounds and two health centres. There is also a Fire Service, a Police Station, a Regional Hospital and a Post office located within the vicinity of the NDC.
The Essequibo NDC is governed by a group of 13 persons, all of whom are residents of Bartica from various walks of life. The chairman since the IMC’s inception is Ovid Benjamin, a pastor for 35 years and the vice chairman is a prominent businessman, Stephen Belle. Among its other councillors are business personalities, security personnel, plumbers, electricians and ordinary residents. The NDC is staffed with 14 persons and has in its complement of equipment a Bedford truck, a tractor/trailer and a bobcat. The staff comprises an overseer, assistant overseer, typist/clerk, office janitor, two sandpit attendants/labourers at the NDC owned Sandpit, which earns revenue for the community, one machine operator, four market staff including a supervisor, assistant supervisor and two sweeper/cleaners, two general security and an abattoir attendant.
In a joint interview with the Chairman, Vice-Chairman and a volunteer Public Relations Officer (PRO), Sherwyn Downer, the group boasted of their achievements in spite of severe setbacks which they inherited for the former NDC. Among the services offered are garbage disposal administered via a private contractor, General Sanitation, with whom they’ve worked along with to build a new landfill at Byderabo Road. They said that the Environmental Protection Agency has given its approval after consultations with residents and stakeholders to such a project which replaces the former dumpsite that spilled over along the same Byderabo Road. Drains and alleyways are cleaned twice yearly whilst weeding of parapets and roadsides is done as needed. The community has a littering problem, they declared, which they are trying to sensitise residents about, acknowledging that they have a long way to go to be successful. They said that they patch roads as needed and were able to advocate for the construction of the Potaro road which is currently underway. Residents have repeatedly complained and protested over this road.
The Vice-Chairman complained of the unreliable water service and electricity provided by the state-owned companies, saying, “Blackout is the order of the day”. Regarding flooding concerns, the council says that the causes are primarily two, i.e. the spring tide and heavy rainfall, as they say the drains are clean and the kokers are functioning. Benjamin, in his opinion of the state of the community
and quality of life of the residents said, “There’s no other place like this in the country. People are comfortable and conditions are reasonable”. He continued, “Residents used to cry out about the state of the community with the former council; some drains were filled with sand and other material so much that you thought there was no drain and basic services were not provided”. This IMC, he added, is committed to providing accountability and transparency to the residents, something he said was absent in the previous council.
Lauding the strengths of the IMC, he said, “We have an open door policy and are open to scrutiny”. He went on, “We are easily accessible and engage the residents in constant interactions with a team of councillors who are committed people that want to uplift the living standards of all Bartica people”. He further mentioned, “We have a committed business community that has donated much needed office equipment to the NDC and people who cooperate with us”. Another strength of the IMC, they declared, was an honest chairman who devotes his entire Wednesday to receiving complaints and responding to residents.
Addressing their challenges, the PRO said, “We inherited debts to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) to the tune of $1.1M for unpaid monies deducted from employees’ salaries and to the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) $2.3M for royalties for the use of their Sandpit”. He continued, “NIS has already been paid off but we still owe GGMC approximately $500,000 which we’re paying off at rate of $90,000 per month”. He added, “This debt to GGMC had prompted them to close down the sand pit without notice to us until after, which was another challenge”. The group then spoke of the fire on November 9th 2012 which they said, destroyed most of the records of the NDC. They went on, “Starting out with no records, was the greatest challenge especially with people trying to game the system”. “It cost over $2M to repair the building which luckily was not gutted by the fire”, the VC said. He further explained that all the money spent fixing the problems of the past could have been used to provide more services to the community. He added, “We lost revenues because of this lack of records and residents were inconvenienced because they would have to redo the process of acquiring building plans”. Applauding the government’s actions to install an IMC, to combat the past problems, the chairman agreed that periodic audits would ensure greater transparency, a move he would support for all NDCs.
Listing their accomplishments since they took office, the group started off with the vendor’s arcade that they successfully established on Mongrippa Hill to curb illegal vending and ease congestion in First Street, Bartica, where the market is. Some 48 stalls were built, with an occupation rate of approximately 80% and stall owners paying $6,000 monthly rental. A parking lot was also identified for the new market place which will be developed in the future as commerce increases. The group highlighted the improvements they were able to effect to the market on First Street, adding a second entrance, paving the front, restoring the electricity and water to the market, upgrading the office and installing a security camera. They say they have been able to increase revenue declared as proceeds from rent for market stalls from $245,000 to $1M every month.
They also boasted of clearing the drains from 3rd to 6th streets, Bartica, which were abandoned and no longer functioned. Patting themselves on the back for patching the road at Dog Point, they acknowledged that more work needs to be done there but the major road repairs needed are the responsibility of the Regional Democratic Council. Rehabilitation work was key among the last on their list of accomplishments as they say they fixed up the abattoir which when visited by the reporter was in good condition, just like the market which was well organized, uncongested and clean. They continued, that the cemetery which was a jungle is now completely de-bushed and has walkways finishing off with the Bedford truck which they say was condemned. A total of $1M was spent to revitalize the “dead” truck which is now servicing the entire community, primarily fetching loads of sand for those who need it.
They said, “We work through the same difficulties faced by other councils and have been able to achieve so much in just 2 years, just imagine what we’ll be able to do in 5”. They added, “We have been able to find unique solutions to the problems we faced in spite of the tremendous challenges we faced as pointed out before, creating alternative sources of revenue and helping people out at the same time”. They concluded, “The other NDCs should stop complaining and doing nothing and follow our example as we continue to lead”. No one on the council wanted to make any comment on Local Government Elections (LGE) and the nationwide call for it to be held after being withheld for 20 years.
What the residents say
Clarice Dalrymple, a 62-year-old street vendor in Bartica for the past nine years said that the NDC is worse than their predecessors. She is of the view that the new occupants came and put the old ones out saying, “They claimed the last set of people were bad but they are worse”. Listing the problems she faces, Dalrymple cried out about the electricity and water services, which she knew were not the responsibility of the council but thought it necessary to have it highlighted. She asked, “Every day is blackout, 2, 3 days we go without light for the week, why people gotta live like dis?” Continuing, she said that the water service is unreliable and more so unpredictable, that water comes on for a few hours in the morning and sometimes in the evening, while on other days it doesn’t come at all. When asked of her knowledge of LGE, the 62 year old said, she knows virtually nothing of it. She said she never voted but asked to be enlightened. After having it explained to her, she said, “That is very bad. I didn’t know we could vote for these people”. She further mentioned, “The elections should have been held all da time but everybody just doing they own thing”.
A market vendor who was skeptical of having her name published told Stabroek News that the market has several problems and that the NDC are not doing enough to address them. The 49-year-old woman who lives at Mongrippa Hill explained that the first problem is the street vendors who pay no rent and have first access to the customers. She added, “We have to pay $12,000 rent, about $16,000 for unreliable electricity and the high cost to bring goods from Georgetown, which already have been inflated because those goods come from Berbice. Another issue she raised with the market is the lack of security as she pointed to some time ago when several stalls were broken into, with no resolution or recourse for the victims. Moving onto her community she said that the place is bushy in Mongrippa Hill, that there is no drainage; the water just rolls down the hill and that there are hardly any street lights. She declared, “The NDC is not doing a good job; things got worse since this new set of people took over”. She then raised a non-NDC related problem, of poor medical care being delivered at the regional hospital. Regarding LGE, she said, “20 years without the election is very bad. That’s why the village gotta be like this”. She added, “”If the people here elected who formed the council then the elected people would really perform and if they didn’t then we would change them next time around, as is our right”.
A bus driver, who did not want to be named gave a brief interview to Stabroek News after seeing the rest of his fellow drivers refuse. The reserved man who did not want to provide personal details of his life said that the roads in Bartica are the main problem. He said,”Don’t bother with these lil lil holes around the town area; the main roads just outside here is the problem”. Acknowledging the work which has started on the Potaro Road, he expressed pessimism over the quality of work that they would receive especially since it is being done amidst heavy rainfall. Asked of his opinion of the effectiveness of the NDC, he said. “They’re doing ok but they need to press harder for these roads and ensure we get quality for our money”. Having little knowledge of LGE, he said, “I only hear about it from the news but I think it’s bad that we ain’t get it in 20 years”.
A businessman, who took this reporter on a tour of the Bartica community and outlying areas in a pick-up truck said, “Before I talk to you, lemme show you some of the problems we facing”. During the drive along, this reporter took several photographs of the blemishes highlighted by the man who wished to remain unnamed and questioned him of his opinions of things local government. He said, “The roads are down as you can see and garbage is all over the place”. He went on, “In 3rd and 4th Streets, where my family lives, suffer from flooding because the NDC hardly cleans the drains”. He continued, “Some business pay junkies to dispose of their garbage for them, who dumps them on the street corners or roadside”. This problem, he opined should engage the attention of the NDC. He then complained of the water supply, which he deemed unreliable because service is only provided every other day. He then complained about the electricity supply, bemoaning the constant blackouts he experiences. In the beginning he had complained of the condition of the roads but after seeing work being done on the Potaro Road, said, “If they fix this road then things are improving”. He however said that the NDC should be making more representation to get this kind of work done for all the roads that are bad in the area.