Just weeks after the Jagdeo administration’s announcement that it was making yet another generous financial gesture to a Georgetown City Council that simply never seems to possess the liquidity to meet even its most important debts, we are hearing again – at least according to the state-run Chronicle newspaper that the municipality is seeking to “recoup monies for the payment of salaries, garbage collection and the procurement of materials and supplies for the city.” Long before now it had already been apparent that City Hall had lost even a modicum of control over the management of the city on account of a combination of an absence of funds with which to do so and a level of management deficiency which, various interventions notwithstanding, it appears unable to overcome.
Now we are hearing for the umpteenth time that the municipality is once again offering amnesty to defaulting ratepayers coupled with an incentive of full or partial write-offs of interest that would have accrued on outstanding rates and taxes. There has to be something seriously wrong with a municipality that keeps throwing out amnesty ‘carrots’ to defaulters who continue, in most cases, not to pay those even the slightest attention for reasons that are patently obvious to all but those who keep concocting these disingenuous offers.
An amnesty such as is being offered by City Hall is only what it says it is when it is backed by a credible threat of some serious consequence deriving from a failure to comply. When no such credible threat exists it becomes anything else but an amnesty and as it happens defaulting ratepayers know only too well that City Hall’s carrot is accompanied by no corresponding stick. Apart from the fact that the avenue of swift prosecution of delinquents is undermined by the sloth of the courts, City Hall’s debt collection and public relations people have been unable, over the years, to impose measures short of litigation to punish delinquent ratepayers. So that the offers of amnesty come and go without ever attracting the level of response which City Hall appears to anticipate and that of course can be determined by the fact that at the end of the amnesty periods the municipality never appears to be better off financially.
This time around the amnesty seeks to take account of even the worst offenders whom, according to City Hall will have their interests slashed by 25 per cent if they manage to pay off their outstanding rates and taxes a full 42 days after yesterday, September 15. Those who discharge their liabilities to City Hall within 14 days of yesterday will pay no interest at all while those who pay within 28 days will have their interest slashed by half. In effect, what City Hall is offering delinquent ratepayers, some of whom have made no payment for years, is the opportunity of a reward for paying their long overdue debts.
If only because the delinquent ratepayers are not exactly shaking in their boots over the likely consequences of not responding to City Hall’s latest amnesty announcement it must surely have occurred to the municipality by now that the announcement itself is unlikely to attract serious attention from ratepayers; never mind the fact that the deadlines will probably come and go and a new amnesty will be announced a few months down the road.
City Hall needs to understand that it needs to develop the capacity, by way of either persuasion or muscle to have ratepayers meet their obligations to say nothing of a corresponding ability to meet its own. A so-called amnesty that is not backed by a credible threat of consequences for failing to comply amounts to no more than the proverbial pursuit of ‘pouring water on ducks’ backs’.