Local Government Minister Kellawan Lall is being pilloried for suggesting that a health crisis would be welcomed to effect the removal of the city council, almost a month since garbage contractors withdrew services for non-payment.
On Wednesday, Lall, when asked if government preferred to spend millions on a health crisis in the city rather than try to help the council, said: “Well, if there is a health crisis in the city I’ll be glad because it’ll remove the city council. They’ll be responsible for it.” The minister added that it was the Council’s job to clean the city, pointing out that the government was spending hundred of millions of dollars in the city. “Remember this city has a small core of activities all other services are provided by the government… cleaning the drains, picking up rubbish, looking after the markets and they can’t do that.”
Lall also urged the Council to cut its staff if it wanted assistance from the government. “I don’t think it’s fair to ask the central government to do these things. We have 900 people working there why should the central government come in and do these things.” He noted that most of the money that is being collected at City Hall from the people of Georgetown is being used to pay salaries and run the offices. “They [are] collecting $1.6B, 85% of which goes to wages and salaries. How are you going to clean the city?” he said, adding, “The Mayor has to deal with two issues—raising more money and more importantly dealing with the spending of 85% of the income at present on the administration..”
But Mayor Hamilton Green called the remarks “nonsense,” saying Lall let the cat out of the bag when referring to the prospect of a health crisis. He also pointed out that retired personnel have not been replaced and “in any event the staff now employed if provided with the materials will be inadequate to provide the services we are required to provide.”
Meanwhile as it relates to the owing of rates and taxes to City Hall, Lall had stated that monies owed are paid. Green, however, noted that $100M is still owed by the government. Lall had said that was the total for the year and that two payments have already been made. “I don’t think there is any formal agreement as to when they pay. It has to be worked out between the city council and the Ministry of Finance,” he added.
According to Green, government owes $79M from GUYNET, $62M from the Milk Factory and $121M from Fisheries Limited.
Meanwhile, the main opposition PNCR said it was “disingenuous” of Lall to disassociate himself from the problems facing the Council and its capacity to fund the garbage collection. While the party admitted that the garbage situation was a cause for concern, it said Lall’s “health crisis” statement exposed the real intentions of the PPP administration in allowing the situation to deteriorate to the extent it has. “The deplorable state of the garbage situation in the capital city, although the responsibility of the M&CC of Georgetown, is reflective of the spitefulness of the Jagdeo administration that results in the creation of health hazards for citizens,” it noted.
Minister of Health Leslie Ramsammy, in defence of Lall’s statement yesterday, said that it came out wrong. “I’m sure Minister Lall doesn’t want to see that there is a big health problem in our city but what he really meant is should that happen, then that is enough reason to say enough is enough. I think that is what he really meant,” Ramsammy said. He added that the garbage situation is “a serious challenge to people’s health at this time” and “as days go it will just get worse.” His ministry has been giving advisories on what people should do and some of the ways they could help to reduce the risk, he noted.