Local Government…A capital immersed in the stench of politics

The manner of last week announcement by Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon’s that government has decided,  once again, to play saviour to the city provides  yet another frustrating reminder of the political quagmire in which Georgetown remains firmly stuck.

This time around, the government has chosen, it seems, to exclude the City Council altogether from its latest cleanup intervention, a decision which, inexplicably, suggests that it is not inclined to hitch its sails to the mast of the Implementation Committee which, even now, seeks to harness the recommendations of The Burrowes Report in order to help City Hall enhance its capacity to manage the capital. No less baffling was the suggestion by the Cabinet Secretary that the announced cleanup exercise had to do, substantively, with the approaching May/June rains and only coincidentally with the fact of Guyana’s hosting of a large slice of the International Cricket Council 2010 World T-20 tournament.

The absurdity of the implication that government has suddenly gotten religion on the need to do something significant about the state of Georgetown was laid bare in an editorial published in the April 22 edition of the Stabroek News, which, apart from thumbing its proverbial nose at the notion that the promised major urban cleanup exercise had more to do with the May/June rains and less to do with Guyana being accorded a share of the ICC T-20 tournament raised the obvious question. Why only now? The May/June rains, after all, is an altogether predictable phenomenon, the immediately preceding long period of brutally dry weather allowing more than ample time to have done what was necessary to  protect the capital against its recurring consequences.

If the Luncheon announcement dropped a broad hint that government was once again seeking to extract political mileage from its now worn – out propensity for humiliating City Hall, the ruse, this time around, has about it an element of wearisome boorishness. The seeming intention of the announcement was undone by the outcomes of the earlier Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the operations of City Hall which had already laid bare the combination of management deficiencies and lack of competence that have seriously impaired its ability to discharge its obligations to the capital and sought to point the municipality firmly in a remedial direction. Cabinet, and specifically Dr. Luncheon, appeared not to have recognized that City Hall bashing has now been rendered decidedly unfashionable by the outcomes of the Burrowes Report. Repairing the municipality’s shortcomings has now become the   primary preoccupation.

Had it so chosen, the government could have handled the Luncheon announcement differently. it could have embraced City Hall as part of its urban restoration announcement, a move which would not only have signaled the throwing of its weight behind the remedial work being done by the Burrowes-led Implementation Committee, but would also have signaled a burying of the hatchet in the protracted political fight with City Hall, the only outcome of which has been to sustain the state of chaos in which Georgetown remains immersed.

No one, least of all City Hall itself, questions any longer the fact that the municipality, given its serious limitations, can undertake a restoration exercise of the magnitude which Luncheon says central government is contemplating. That aside and try as it may, the political administration is surely not nearly naïve enough to think that it can, any longer, persuade the citizenry that the state of the city is not, in large measure, a function of its own narrowness of vision and its failure – save in cases where it recognizes and opportunity to burnish its own political image – to lift a finger to support City Hall.

The current intervention is by no means the first one by government that has been attended by a generous helping of hype and hoopla, all designed to present government as a knight in shining armour and to cast City Hall in the role of an eccentric but decidedly ineffective Don Quixote. The state of Georgetown, the government needs to be reminded, is now sufficiently dire to make its political grandstanding immature and counterproductive and to fuel what is already widely believed, that is, that its real intention is to stifle City Hall in a political bear hug.

This time around too the knight in shining armour ruse has been attended by a generous helping of farce. Dr. Luncheon and his Cabinet colleagues must surely have been aware of the absence of any rational explanation for waiting until the May/June rain has already dropped the first broad hint of its  imminent arrival before the announcement of the intervention, the immediately preceding period of debilitating drought having provided more than ample opportunity to prepare for the rains. The obvious but decidedly less flattering reason for the timing of the government’s intervention is the imminent arrival not of the rains but of the ICC’s T-20 extravaganza, a circumstance that exposes the government’s propensity for moving to close the stable doors on the stench and squalor of the city only after the horses of some international event have already taken their first strides towards bolting. Of course, it need hardly be said that the repetitive nature of these eleventh-hour urban cleanups – which, unfailingly, are sustained only for the duration of the events that spawned them in the first place – raises searching questions as to just how serious the government really is about the state  of the capital.

The whole charade suggests that the authorities are either unmindful or uncaring of a public mood that has long lost any appetite for its political grandstanding which has now become at least as offensive as the stench of piles of garbage that have now become permanent landmarks in the capital. The sad truth, it appears, is that the manner in which the government has chosen to handle the announcement of the exercise and particularly the apparent exclusion of City Hall from the exercise, provides a grim reminder that the limited accomplishments of the Burrowes Commission and the efforts to chart a new course for City Hall may well stand imperiled by the persistence of a culture of old style politics which simply refuses to go away.

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