President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday averted a garbage disaster in the city when he agreed to allocate $184M to the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) to pay striking workers and garbage contractors who had withdrawn their services.
The crisis started to unfold late last week when the union representing the workers, the Guyana Labour Union (GLU), threatened strike action over the workers not being paid for the month of October. Then on Monday the $643M- indebted council announced that the garbage contractors had halted their operations and advised city residents not to put out their garbage for collection as it would not be cleared.
Workers had vowed not to start work until their monies were in their hands and the council had promised to pay them today.
This newspaper made futile efforts to solicit comments from Public Relations Officer Royston King and Town Clerk Beulah Williams as to whether the sum allocated from government would be enough to pay the workers and the contractors.
Meanwhile the Government Information Agency (GINA) in a press release said that the government has agreed to allocate $140M to the City Council to pay its workers as well as $44M in advance for Central Government taxes for the last quarter of the year.
This decision was made when President Jagdeo along with Minister of Local Government and Regional Development, Kellawan Lall met City Council officials and other representatives at State House. Town Clerk Beulah Williams and General Secretary of the Guyana Labour Union Carvil Duncan also attended the meeting.
According to GINA the emergency meeting was held to discuss the current predicament in which the council has found itself with workers downing tools over unpaid salaries and contractors refusing to collect garbage in and around the city in light of outstanding payments totaling some $140M.
Minister Lall commenting after the meeting said that the government has assisted in resolving the council’s financial woes several times, since officials of the body are unable to manage their affairs.
Referring to comments made by City Mayor Hamilton Green, Lall said that it seems that the mayor has been “out of touch’ with what is happening in the city and has instead chosen to “play politics” instead of looking at the real problems facing the council, including overstaffing and finances.
The minister alluded to the recent issue involving what he referred to as the mayor’s “political stance” and noted that it seems that his focus has been elsewhere, adding that the council has long been managed ineffectively.
In response to Green’s accusation that central government was responsible for the council’s predicament, Lall said that on the contrary, central government has had to come to the rescue when the council was faced with problems on several occasions.
He recalled, GINA said, when calls were being made for the council to be replaced by an Interim Management Committee (IMC) following a number of complaints about the council’s ineffective management.
According to Lall, though the mayor has said that many entities owe the council large sums of money and this was contributing to the council’s dilemma, he was not revealing its debtors which include the PNCR’s Congress Place that owes the council close to $100M.
He contended that this money situation with the council keeps recurring and something needs to be done about it.
Meanwhile although the GINA release stated the allocated sum as $184M, City Hall gave the allocated figure as $150M which will be used to pay only the contractors.
And City Hall has said nothing about payment to workers.
Mayor of Georgetown Green who has repeatedly laid the blame on the government for the council’s cash strapped situation told Stabroek News yesterday that he was informed that Town Clerk Williams and Deputy Mayor Robert Williams were meeting with the President at State House to discuss the money woes.
He said that he was never invited to be a part of this meeting although he is the mayor. While speaking to this newspaper Green received a telephone call from the Town Clerk informing him that the council had received $150M from the government to pay only the contractors.
Green told the Stabroek News that this sort of behaviour (government giving the council money) is totally unacceptable and “goes against the grain of good governance and is a clear sign of hierarchic tendencies.”
He has always told the media that the government is refusing to allow the council to broaden its revenue base which would alleviate the cash flow difficulties that it is facing at present.
Yesterday he said that “the government wants to exercise full control of the city” and that is the reason why they are refusing to let the council do this. He stressed that the government did not have the decency to inform him of the initiative to give council money to pay the contractors.
Green yesterday informed this newspaper that the contractors are owed a total of $134.8M.
The size and the number of garbage piles around the city have grown within the last 24 hours and this situation will continue until workers are paid.
Stabroek News visited several areas in the city and despite numerous pleas by City Hall not to put out garbage for collection residents were still doing so.
Rubbish littered the parapets and was strewn on the roadways after being rummaged through by dogs and vagrants, leaving the place smelly and fly-infested.
This scene was particularly evident in Kitty, Tiger Bay, Kingston, Norton Street, Bourda Market and Stabroek Market and its environs.
Hundreds of city workers on the advice of their union began a sit-in exercise on Tuesday and vowed not to let up until their October salaries are in their hands.
Workers at various locations were seen idling and in one case were playing dominoes.
At the stone depot on Princes Street workers told Stabroek News they will not give up the fight. One of the affected workers said that at first they got paid on the 15th of every month and then the pay day was pushed backed to the 25th. He said that in spite of this change they still are not getting their money and they are fed up with that. Visibly upset, the man who says he does road repairs, told this newspaper that people have to send their children to school and to pay bills and after working so hard every month they cannot be paid. He said that this behaviour is totally unacceptable and they will not work unless they get money. He said that a new month will be starting and they have no money.
In June work in the city was halted after workers were not paid but this situation was quickly rectified after the President threw a lifeline to the council instructing the Minister of Finance to release $40M.
Last month government spent $800M on roads, which is the responsibility of the council and the government too embarked on a massive enhancement campaign in the city, which included upgrading of roads, cleaning drains, landscaping and clearing pavements prior to the hosting of Cricket World Cup.
Meanwhile the Ministry of Health yesterday issued an advisory in light of the present garbage pile up in the city. According to the advisory, the ministry advised the general public that proper disposal of all household waste is very important since failure could add to the creation of ideal breeding sites for mosquitoes, rats, flies and cockroaches which can adversely affect health and even lead to sickness and death. Given the alert for the transmission of dengue, this garbage disposal situation is of special importance to the health ministry, the advisory stated.