Less than 24 hours after the Linden Interim Management Committee (IMC) averted industrial action by deciding to pay an additional $1.8M monthly to its employees, Minister of Local Govern-ment Norman Whittaker has said no to the main revenue raising measure.
He informed the municipality that the major source of the increased revenue, the Kara Kara toll booth must stop functioning with immediate effect.
Expressing disbelief that “such a callous decision” could be made so suddenly, Chairman of the Linden IMC, Orin Gordon said “You’re talking about an entire community. You’re talking about a very poor group of people, who are poorly paid.”
Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, after informing the administrative staff of the municipality of the sudden turn of events, Gordon said the IMC will not terminate the operation of the toll booth.
Gordon said he had spoken to Minister Whittaker by cellular phone during the meeting to resolve the industrial action and had informed the Minister of the decision that was to be taken. He also said that he had enquired from the Minister whether it was possible for the Ministry to find 50% of what the Linden IMC needed for the next three months and he would guarantee that the IMC would be able to fend for itself after that period.
Gordon said that subsequently, on Tuesday evening, the Linden town clerk, Jonellor Bowen, had made several futile attempts to contact him by telephone and when he saw the missed calls, he had logged on to the IMC’s computer system, and saw an e-mail from the Minister that “spoke clearly to the by-law, which he (Whittaker) had signed on 1 September 2011.”
Gordon told the press that he wanted it understood that the situation was very dangerous. “The Minister said that the order he had signed on 1 September 2011 is void, is unenforceable and improper,” Gordon said, adding “that meant that the toll booth should be disbanded.”
Pointing out that the toll booth had been in existence since 1995, the Linden IMC Chairman emphasised that the relevant by-law had been drawn up but it took more than two years for the Local Government Minister Kellawan Lall to make the decision and he had left office without making a pronouncement for the by-law to be activated.
Recalling that Minister Whittaker approved the by-law in 2011, the IMC Chairman said: “Now, in 2013, two years later, the Cabinet is saying that this thing is unenforceable. As far as I am concerned, they could have just used the word illegal.”
Gordon said that since the Kara Kara toll booth has been given legal teeth, it has been very effective and has doubled revenue collection for the municipality.
He added that the truckers that are passing are happy, especially the ones involved in lumber.
According to him, the lumber truckers said the municipality took too long to put measures in place to bring other heavy moving vehicles such as those carrying fuel and gold mining material under the toll net.
Stating that this decision was made after “persons close to the ruling boys and girls deciding that they don’t want to pay and, therefore, called on whoever to remove the toll,” Gordon said that the immediate effect is that the decision that was made on the previous day to increase the workers’ wages cannot materialise; secondly, the municipality will not be able to continue a lot of the services that it provides within the town; thirdly, that 40 to 50 workers will have to be made redundant.
He said that while the government is outlawing the Kara Kara toll booth, “there is a private company charging $40,000 to cross with the pontoon when you’re going to Tumatumari.
When you’re going Sherima, you have to pay a huge amount to cross at Sherima. When you go to Mango Landing, you got to pay a large amount to cross at Mango Landing.
When you’re driving on the road at Itaballi, you have to pay $40,000 and let me tell you, two or three years ago, I saw the government giving them $200M to do repairs on interior roads.”
He said the municipality had exempted churches and businesses that operate in Linden from paying toll at the Kara Kara toll station. Reiterating his belief that the decision was influenced by a few people who wanted waivers and approached their friends in high places and decision-making positions, Gordon added that one of the hinterland companies that charges a lot of money to use its transport facility had requested a concession at the Kara Kara toll booth and had been refused by the Linden municipality.