The residents of Bartica in Region Seven are against the dissolution of their Neigh-bourhood Democratic Coun-cil (NDC) and are calling for the long-awaited Local Government Elections to be speeded up.
At an enquiry held at Bar-tica on Friday, it was revealed that Minister of Local Government and Regional Development Ganga Persaud had received a petition, on which 20 residents affixed their signatures, requesting an inquiry into the NDC and its dissolution. According to Commissioner of the inquiry Puran Persaud, the petition also said that the residents are dissatisfied with the way the business of the NDC is being conducted.
Former Regional Demo-cratic Council (RDC) chairman Holbert Knights questioned the basis on which the minister would make a decision; whether it would be the petition or the report of the inquiry, or both.
Persaud clarified that the decision on whether to dissolve the council and appoint an Interim Management Com-mittee (IMC) would be based on his findings in his report after the inquiry.
Throughout the inquiry, residents said they found that the NDC acted transparently. They deemed the councillors and NDC in general as considerate and several said that the petition which was sent to the minister was not factual.
Mary Jones of Fourth Avenue said the petitioners should have been present at the meeting to defend their “biased statements”. She said Local Government Elections are long overdue and suggested that instead of the minister calling for an inquiry into the NDC, he should call for speedy elections so that they can elect their councillors who will restore their town to the way it was. She added that the current councillors were elected by the people and said she was satisfied with the way they go about their business, calling them “flexible” and “friendly”.
Jones said the community should work together, noting that everything in the community was not the way it should be. She pointed to the garbage situation that needs to be addressed, but said it was beyond the NDC’s control. Jones said the NDC did not have the equipment to carry out its duties as there was only “one bruck-up” tractor that was donated by the British High Commission years back. She accused the RDC of trying to override the NDC, stating that in many instances the chairman of the NDC passes on the road and is unaware of developmental works and it should not be that way.
Jones said the $3 million subvention the government grants the NDC was not enough; it needed to be equipped with the relevant machinery and tools so as to earn revenue to sustain, maintain and develop the community.
Knights added that residents rely on the financially strained NDC to have their every little problem solved which is not fair. He went on to suggest that the rates and taxes be revised.
He also questioned why the government was prepared to spend much needed revenue to have an IMC rather than fill the gaps. He noted that the council was put there 18 years ago by Barticians and anybody replacing the councillors must be Barticians and by the same process they were elected.
Knights said the Bartica NDC is one of the most audited NDCs in the country, and so far the auditors have not found any discrepancies. He added that last year the auditors made a public announcement regarding their audit, asking all who had concerns to come forward, but no one came.
Persaud interjected that the auditors report had found that only 65% of rates and taxes were collected and of $2.6 million in arrears only $1 million was collected for last year. He said according to the report, there was “no log book for stall holders, no petty cash system and breaches in payment”. The report also found $157,000 unaccounted for in rates and taxes, National Insurance Scheme (NIS) was overpaid $410,000 and there was also $302,000 unaccounted for in abattoir fees.
He asked the NDC to respond but councillors said they could not since they had not received a report and this was the first time they had heard of such findings.
Knights stated that when there is an issue of incompetence a thorough investigation must be launched and the incompetent councillor must be dealt with, not the entire council dissolved.
Former parliamentarian Judith David Blair, who is a Fourth Avenue resident, said the inquiry was a waste of time since the persons who petitioned were not present there to defend their petition.
“The Bartica NDC was commended and congratulated by international organisations for its transparency,” she said.
She added that she wanted to see methods put in place to develop the NDC, since an IMC is of no use as it is a political move.
“In Bartica we develop ourselves, with ourselves and we know who we got but don’t know who we gon get,” she said, while referring to the IMC.
She also urged the councillors to “stop flexing” and “remove the kindness from their hearts” when dealing with Barticians because the ones who receive the sympathy are the ones who “bite”.
Fourth Avenue resident Elaine Hooper, who said she farms at 10 Miles Potaro claimed to have been the victim of “political violence”. She said her farm is being targeted and she has reported the matter to the police who do not seem to care.
Persaud informed that the purpose of the meeting was concerns with the NDC, but assured her that the police will be taking more interest in her complaints because he made a note of their alleged action as it relates to her complaint. She seemed not satisfied with his response and later left the inquiry.
Vendor and Third Avenue resident Edward Skeete said the NDC was not doing its job and that needs to be corrected. He said he and other stall holders in the market pay their rent, but do not receive the service. He said their garbage would pile up and they had to pay ‘junkies’ to have it removed.
He said “NDC officials are acting with impunity”, pointing out that they gave someone permission to sell alcohol in the market when the law clearly stipulates that this should not be done.
He added that there is no security at the market and also no sanitary facility for the vendors to use.
Skeete also complained of “political racism” adding that he is being targeted because other households’ garbage was removed while his was left behind.
The NDC overseer questioned Skeete’s allegations noting that he had received permission from the NDC to build his house, extend his stalls and also construct a shed. Deputy Chairman Richard Williams said Skeete had breached all the permissions that were given to him because all of his constructions overrode the estimations given by the NDC.
Meanwhile, it was found that some vendors were causing a breach in the seawall and the NDC was asked to have them removed so that repairs could be facilitated. The vendors were strongly against this but later complied.
Persaud told the gathering that the NDC cannot give permission to occupy a government reserve, only the Minis-ter of Local Government and the Minister of Public Works have that authority.
In conclusion, Persaud said he had found a few discrepancies that he hoped would be addressed before he left Bartica.