By Jeff Trotman
Chairman of the Linden Interim Management Committee (IMC) Orrin Gordon said the Kara Kara Toll booth reopens today as planned .
“The minister can’t just wake up in the morning and change something that has been in existence for 16 years just like that,” Gordon told Stabroek News in a telephone conversation on Saturday “It has not been extortion to operate the [Kara Kara] toll booth for sixteen years. How come now it is extortion to operate the booth?”
Insisting that the Linden municipality is on firm ground to operate the Kara Kara toll booth, Gordon candidly said that the toll booth will be reopened as planned. A joint meeting of councillors from the Linden IMC and the Regional Democratic Council, Region Ten had decided that the toll point would be reopened on Monday 4 November.
Gordon is adamant that under the local government act, the local government body has the right to introduce by-laws for revenue collection within its jurisdiction with the approval – with or without amendments – of the Local Government Minister. “In this case,” Gordon insisted, “the minister has not amended anything.”
He reiterated that the Kara Kara toll booth was initiated in 1997 through a by-law that was approved by the then minister and that the booth had been operating for 16 years until it was closed by the Local Government Ministry in August this year. The reason put forward, that the by-law had not been gazetted, Gordon said was “whimsical, spiteful and shows an embedded hatred for the people of this community, which is unfortunate”.
He stated further that Minister Whittaker approved the 2013 budget of the Linden IMC, which includes revenue collection from the Kara Kara toll booth. In this regard, Gordon asked: “If the toll booth is now illegal does that make the 2013 budget illegal?”
Referring to a recent newspaper article in which it was claimed that 30 persons were sacked from the Kara Kara toll booth, Gordon said he was not aware that the Linden IMC employs 30 persons to collect toll at the Kara Kara toll point and he would like to know how the minister arrived at that figure.
He, said, however, if workers are to be made redundant, there is a process that should be followed and “the minister cannot just make people redundant just like that”. Gordon stressed that there is a collective labour agreement between the bargaining agent for the workers, the Guyana Labour Union and the town council and the two entities must meet to discuss and come to a mutual agreement on an issue that is as sensitive as making workers redundant.
Gordon said the ministry has not discussed with the Linden IMC the matter of making workers redundant. Nor, as far as he is aware, has the ministry has discussed the issue with the bargaining agent of the municipal workers.
Gordon said although the controversy surrounding the Kara Kara toll booth emanated from the need for the municipality to beef up revenue to meet the increased wage bill that arose from a hike in the national minimum wage from 1 July this year, it is important to point out that the Kara Kara toll point is the largest revenue earning area for the town council. While it is important for the toll point to be in operation to meet the increased wage bill, revenue from the toll point is also used to shore up financing for several areas of the municipality’s general operation, including garbage collection.
He further stated that the town council’s revenue was insufficient to meet workers’ wage payment for October and the town council saw it as an immediate necessity to reopen the toll booth. However, he is happy that the Local Government Ministry stepped in and facilitated the payment of the workers’ October salaries.
However, the Linden IMC Chairman is concerned at the manner in which the municipal workers’ October salaries were met. He said the payment was made by removing money from a special fund – the Market Maintenance Fund – which is not the proper thing to do.
According to him, the town council operates by drawing down funds from four general areas: the general rate fund, community fund, market maintenance fund and subvention from government and there is a strict system in which funds must be drawn from the specific areas.
With respect to the market maintenance fund, Gordon said it is a fund that was established by the IDB in collaboration with the Urban Development Programme (UDP) to ensure that relevant maintenance and rehabilitation work is done on the two municipal markets in Linden.
He said for the past three years, the town council has applied in vain to draw down money from the market maintenance fund to repair the guttering at the Wismar Market. However, after much protestation by vendors on the wharf at the Mackenzie Market, Minister Whittaker approved the withdrawal of over $3 million from the market maintenance fund to facilitate repairs at the Mackenzie wharf.
Gordon pointed out that with the withdrawal of money from the market maintenance fund to pay the October salaries there is hardly any money left to pay contractors and to do other maintenance and repair work on the two municipal markets.
Noting that the Local Government Ministry’s Permanent Secretary is the only person, who can release money from the various areas, Gordon stressed that the town council has been repeatedly cautioned to adhere to the strict protocol with respect to funds in its various areas of operating. According to him, the government is in breach of the same protocol it insists on and he is wondering what method would be used to obtain funds to pay the municipal workers’ salaries for the next two months of this year.