City must pay GPL the $1B it owes by June 15 or be disconnected

The Guyana Power and Light (GPL) has warned the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) to pay its outstanding balance of $1,090,525,575 by June 15 or be disconnected.

In a letter dated June 7, to Mayor of Georgetown, Hamilton Green, GPL said the amount owed to the council up to April of this year included an increase of $186,711,962 since its last correspondence in August 2012. The council had owed $924,169,735 up to the end of June last year.

“Should the council fail to clear this outstanding amount, then GPL will proceed to disconnect its supply of electricity to the council premises and institute legal action,” the letter said.

“GPL has repeatedly encouraged the council to liquidate its arrears and to pay its monthly electricity charges in full. Our efforts have been futile as evidenced by the significant growth in the council’s arrears over the protracted period,” it added.

GPL also stated in the letter that “the council’s apparent refusal to liquidate its debt is clearly untenable and unacceptable.” Green said the recent move by GPL was an assault on the council because GPL has stated that power to City Hall will be disconnected even though 80% of the bill was for power used by street lighting. He also stated that during meetings with GPL, the council had suggested that if a situation arises where disconnection is at stake, power should be disconnected from the area that consumes the most power.

When asked about the billing period for the amount owed, Green could not say.

The council has been paying about $7 million a month to GPL dating back two years for electricity. This sum was agreed to until the council liquidates its debt, a source said
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According to Junior Garrett, Head of the Finance Committee of the Council, $40 million was the amount of cash the council had at its disposal. When this newspaper contacted him, however, he said he could not speak as he was in the middle of an emergency.

The content of the letter sent by GPL was discussed at the council’s statutory meeting yesterday. At the meeting, Green indicated to Acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba that he would give her a copy of the letter from GPL, but she stated that she would like the original. This caused a period of heckling by councillors.

A meeting with councillors is scheduled for today to discuss the situation involving GPL, but Sooba indicated that she will send her deputy as she would not be attending, even though she is the person responsible for paying such entities. She stated that matters of such nature should be discussed at statutory meetings.

Meanwhile, Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Green expressed shock at the situation pertaining to GPL. She said she had asked the Town Clerk to have meetings with GPL to discuss the council’s indebtedness and had been assured that she was dealing with the matter at a higher level. Chase-Green also wrote to Minister of Local Government Ganga Persaud yesterday to complain about the “flagrant abuse of authority by Sooba.”

The deputy mayor said Sooba’s behaviour has resulted in the entire municipality being under severe stress, which is affecting the smooth functioning of its systems to provide core services to citizens.

Chase-Green’s letter complained about Sooba’s unauthorised reduction of councillors’ allowances for travel and subsistence. Councillors are entitled to a $45,000 per month stipend, but this was cut by more than 50% for most councillors. Some councillors received sums as low as $9,000.

According to the Town Clerk, this was a result of the affected councillors’ failure to attend meetings regularly. Councillors were not paid for the days they were absent. Sooba also said that she was advised in writing by the Local Government Minister to do so, but when asked by the deputy mayor to produce evidence of this directive she could not.

Chase-Green said that this is not in accordance with the Municipal and District Councils Act. In her letter, she cited Chapter 28:01 Section 22 (1) of the Act, which states: “the City Council may in each year, with the approval of the minister, appropriate out of the funds of the council, a sum to utilized for the remuneration of councillors other than travelling and subsistence expenses incurred in the course of duty, and may, with such approval, determine what sum shall be payable to each councillor.”

She also cited Section 45, which states: “a council may pay to councillors reasonable travelling and subsistence allowances at such rates as may be determined by the council with the approval of the minister, in respect of expenses incurred by them in the course of or by reason of their performing their official duties.”

The letter went on to say that “notwithstanding this legal provision, the Town Clerk (ag) overstepped her boundaries and capriciously cut the stipulated allowances of councillors.”

Chase-Green also added that the majority of councillors are calling on the minister to immediately fill the position of Town Clerk with a competent and qualified person.

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