Inquiries into three Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) began yesterday with each community requesting a different approach to its management system.
Visited and assessed by Local Government and Regional Development officials were the Industry/ Plaisance, La Jalousie/ Nouvelle Flanders and the Little Diamond NDCs. At each office, residents were engaged in discussions about the issues in their respective communities and those at Little Diamond, East Bank Demerara, gave their approval for an Interim Management Committee (IMC) to take over from the NDC.
At La Jalousie/Nouvelle Flanders, residents did not object to the NDC continuing to function, while the Industry/Plaisance residents called for local government elections.
Recently, the Ministry of Local Government has been dissolving NDCs and replacing them with IMCs, drawing criticism from the main opposition APNU.
Earlier this week, the Kwakwani NDC was dissolved and replaced by an IMC, while last week, the ministry dissolved the Ireng/Sawariwau NDC in Region Nine after previously dissolving the Bartica NDC in addition to several others following public inquiries.
Residents of Little Diamond and Herstelling filed a petition requesting the removal of the NDC, a move some residents said will result in employment and development for the communities.
The petition, which was signed by 48 residents, cited many concerns of residents, which are not being addressed by the current NDC. Some of the concerns are the lack of proper management, inadequate development in the community such as the inability to rehabilitate roads and recreational facilities and lack of information pertaining to the making of decisions.
A group of residents gathered at the NDC office yesterday morning to voice their concerns to representatives from the Ministry of Local Government, while some left in anger. They stated that the current NDC chairman is not acting in the interest of persons in the community.
Neville Small, a resident and one of the petitioners, said he was employed by the NDC but was laid off in February last year and his age was cited as the reason. However, he claimed, “They put me off because of politics and my hair curly.” He said he is 60 years old and yet the NDC has employed two men who are older than him.
Small, who is currently unemployed, said he applied for work with the council, but was told by the chairman that there were no vacancies. He added, “I came here today hoping that with the replacement of the NDC with the IMC I will be employed, because the current chairman is not giving employment…” He continued, “The drains are not cleaned because they always claiming that they don’t have money.”
Another resident, Ramesh Dass, an employee at the council said there should be change because the current NDC chairman has not been moving towards development. Drawing a parallel, he asked rhetorically, “If everyday you husband a come home drunk and behave bad, wah you gun do?”
Dass described himself as a “jack of all trade,” while stating that he believes he is being underpaid for what he does. He said he is the excavator operator, handyman, office assistant, painter, plumber and the person who takes care of all other maintenance work for the council. He also said that the council always complains about a lack of funds.
Over at La Jalousie/ Nouvelle Flanders, the consensus was reached that the NDC will continue to function since none of the residents at the meeting objected to this.
A petition was allegedly signed by 12 residents in that community stating that the NDC should be replaced by an IMC. However, at the meeting yesterday, none of the petitioners attended nor was a copy of the petition filed.
Meanwhile, at Industry/Plaisance, issues raised by residents stemmed from the fact that the NDC has not had, for several years, a quorum for decision making, since only three councillors remain but yet are inactive. Residents here are calling for local government elections.
“The position of the Ministry of Local Government is that the NDC was complimented with 18 councillors in 1994… If they have been inactive because of death, migration of loss of interest, it is the chairman’s place to write to the minister informing him. That is the legal procedure,” Commissioner of Inquiry, Rabindra Prashad said.
He explained that with only three councillors, whether they meet and make decisions, those cannot be enforced since it would not be legitimate.
Prashad further stated that there have been instances where this procedure was followed and public servants were installed so that the council is not robbed of its human resource capacity for decisions to be taken.
With the lack of a quorum, the Industry/Plaisance NDC has been unable to conduct statutory meetings, which are required by law to be held at least once a month, in several years.
Prashad noted that these meetings are vital since it is at these forums that decisions about the community are taken. However, it was reiterated that without a quorum, this would be impossible.
During testimonies, it was revealed that among the problems experienced in this community are deplorable roads, bad drainage systems and poor lighting. They blamed these developments on the lack of a working force.
“It is evident that for something to be done, large funds need to be paid in forms of contracts and the council has no daily workforce as it should be. Some community workers are involved in offering different services but the cooperation from office staff is not there,” one resident stated, using the failure to provide equipment for these works in a timely fashion as an example.
Prashad in response explained that if there had been an active council, the there would have been three committees in place—finance, social services and works—which would have been responsible for the overlooking of such work.
He explained that services should be provided through the collection of rates and taxes, most of which, in the case of Plaisance, are garnered from the market. It was revealed that of the $39 million which should have been collected from the market, only $10 million was collected and from individual taxpayers, only $4 million were garnered of the expected $16 million.
“The government’s $3 million subvention has been very popularized to mean that is the only money received to manage the community so the claim is always ‘we don’t have money’ but the majority of the money comes from rate collection at any NDC. This NDC is $55 million rich. How are we managing that collection of rates? What is preventing us from collecting $55 million? What is the council doing?” Prashad questioned.
Rodwell Lewis, a resident, accused persons residing in Pradoville of not paying taxes, resulting in murmuring in the crowd about why should they. “The way I see it is the rich get richer and the poor get poorer,” Lewis stated.
Mr Roberts, another resident of the community, admitted that every NDC experiences problems but noted that an IMC is not needed to rectify these issues. Instead, he said, local government elections are needed. “I hope that whatever we have it’s the people of the community who will elect their representative, to serve them, people who know the area,” he said.
Local government elections have been due since 1997.