Treasurer of the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) of Georgetown Mr Andrew Meredith confessed on Monday that he has been having difficulty sleeping and the reason for this is the poor state of the city’s finances. Since the city’s finances have been in a troubled state for years, Mr Meredith’s health may be in jeopardy; insomnia has been known to have deleterious effects on a person’s well-being. However, the revelation by Mr Meredith that city workers’ contributions, Pay As You Earn (PAYE) to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and to the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) have not been paid for a while – close to a year in the case of NIS – is more than cause for an epidemic of sleeplessness.
At the end of April, the city had liabilities amounting to some $980 million, including $90 million owed to the GRA and NIS, $68 million to garbage collectors, $900,000 for telephone charges and some $600 million for electricity among other things.
The NIS has complained ad nauseam about employers who deduct contributions from their employees’ wages and salaries and do not forward them. This leads to all sorts of problems when workers fall ill or reach pensionable age. The GRA has never been known to hesitate to charge interest on unpaid or late paid taxes, which becomes the employee’s responsibility. The city’s default in these areas therefore places much greater strain on its employees, who already have the stress of waiting weeks past month end for their meagre salaries.
For more than a few years, news emerging from statutory meetings at City Hall revolved around money – the lack of it. It takes money to run a city—even the man in the moon knows that—and Georgetown has had very little or none for more than a decade. The city’s annual budget is never balanced—it doesn’t even come close to that. So throughout the year, every year, Georgetown is constantly in debt to the Guyana Power and Light, the Guyana Water Authority, the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company and its garbage contractors. In addition, there is no money to pay workers, repair roads, clean the streets or conduct drainage works. The result? Georgetown has become a stinking, rundown, slum city. One can’t help but wonder how anyone sleeps.
The entire M&CC, the Town Clerk and all others directly involved in the administration of Georgetown should also be tossing and turning in their beds at their collective failure, which involves many poor management decisions taken both in the past and at present; some for political reasons. However, while they must accept full responsibility for the state of the city, central government—President Bharrat Jagdeo and his ministers who over the years have had direct responsibility for local government should have their pillow-top and posturpedic mattresses swapped for beds of nails. There is no escaping the fact that they have been participating fully in the game of political football through which Georgetown is constantly kicked to the curb. Yes, the current M&CC can be called incompetent, but no other group of people would be able to make much of a difference, if any at all, under the same circumstances.
Central government agencies are frequently being cited as owing City Hall taxes, which have remained at stagnated figures for years despite inflation. The evidence of an economic boom in the city is there. Huge ugly buildings are going up everywhere with little sign of proper urban planning, and according to City Hall many builders are flouting codes. The city should be making a killing off all these commercial ventures, but unfortunately, that is not the case.
Obviously insomnia is not the only condition afflicting those who run things. Sloth, greed, a lack of pride, envy and downright ‘bad-mindedness’ also prevail. Poor Georgetown.