We are coming up to the Christmas season and the central government has decided in its wisdom to inflict on the city another of its periodic garbage crises, this time primarily in the Bourda and Stabroek Markets areas where citizens purchase their food (among many other commodities). Hygiene and sanitary surroundings are clearly not a priority for the members of this administration, but then they probably do their fruit and vegetable purchases, etc, in the supermarket, where the serried rows of fresh products are laid out in cold cabinets, so how the rest of us go about acquiring food for the table is hardly likely to penetrate their thoughts.
The present problem has all the hallmarks of a new variation on the Great Garbage Game, which has been going on now for years. In its traditional formulation the city council would be unable to pay the garbage contractors and they would consequently withdraw their services. The council would let it be known that the government owes substantial sums on the rates and taxes, which of course the latter would vehemently deny, counter-charging that the city council was misusing the money and was corrupt. After a hue and cry from the public, the central administration would eventually pay something ‘in advance’ on its account ‒ always with a martyred air ‒ the contractors would be paid, and the refuse pile would begin slowly to diminish again.
The whole theory behind this was to convince the citizens of Georgetown that it was all the fault of the Mayor and City Council who were incompetent and not to be trusted, and persuade them that they should really be more disposed to voting for the PPP in local government elections (should that opportunity ever present itself) and in the interim should support the imposition of an Interim Management Committee. We have experienced this scenario so many times, that everyone knows it is all about a political game, and has nothing whatever to do with the well-being of those who live in Georgetown. And in case anyone was entertaining a certain scepticism about whether this indeed was so, Mr Kellawan Lall in his inimitable fashion was able to banish all doubt during the period when he was Minister of Local Government.
The problem from the point of view of the central administration is that this particular format of the game cannot be played out any longer because it now has its own candidate acting as Town Clerk, and she is the accounting officer for the city. As such, there can be no quarrels about whether the government owes money to the M&CC or not. Now none of this is to suggest that the Mayor and City Council are above reproach ‒ far from it ‒ or that they are competent or efficient ‒ another dubious proposition; it is simply to observe that they are not the ones who exercise the power in this nation’s capital. Even Ms Carol Sooba, the acting Town Clerk said as much by implication in a statutory meeting of the council.
So the latest variation on the theme is that Ms Sooba has terminated the contracts of two garbage removal companies – Cevon’s Waste Management and Dartmouth Rentals ‒ in circumstances where both have a role in clearing the city’s two largest markets, on the grounds that their performance has been sub-par. Now the ordinary citizen has absolutely no clue whether the Town Clerk has a case or not; that is not something which the average Georgetowner would be in a position to judge. What is noteworthy, however, is that whatever the justification, Ms Sooba has put no alternative in place to make good the garbage collection deficit.
Stabroek News reported Mr Morris Archer, a contractor for Cevon’s Waste Management as saying that the city council workers were supposed to bring waste from within Stabroek Market and surrounding areas under the contract. We quoted him as going on to explain, “Another contractor is responsible for the day-to-day collection of the area from the Ministry of Labour to KFC by the market. We compact it and carry it away. The Town Clerk is now saying that we are supposed to go and clean in front of those areas and bring the waste to the compactor. We are saying that is not agreed, but we will have to have some negotiations.” Since the matter of a potential dispute over the contract has been raised, she really should have something to say, otherwise she will open herself to the allegation that what she thought was a ‘sub-par’ performance was in fact a misreading of the terms of the agreement.
This is not all about the termination of the services of the two contractors, since as Mr Archer noted it is the city council workers who have the onus of clearing the markets themselves and their immediate environs. Where that is concerned Solid Waste Director Walter Narine has been very frank – too frank, perhaps, for the taste of the Town Clerk who tried to prevent him from speaking at the last statutory meeting when requested to give his recommendations by the councillors.
Where the current garbage crisis is concerned, Mr Narine said last week that his department was not properly equipped to handle it. With respect to Stabroek Market, he went on to answer his own question as to whether his department was equipped to handle the garbage there, by saying, “my answer is no.” He explained that he had only two trucks working, and these were not sufficient for the purpose; what he needed, he said, was three trucks and a tractor-trailer.
So, if Ms Sooba terminated the two contracts, and the city’s Solid Waste Department is not equipped to handle either the situation at Stabroek Market (Mr Narine had other things to say about the difficulties there too) or the garbage crisis, what is she proposing in order to deal with the situation? The men and women around the horseshoe table have already voted by a majority to reinstate the contracts, but the Town Clerk has resisted going that route. According to Mayor Hamilton Green, when the representatives of Cevon’s and Dartmouth were invited to a city council meeting, Ms Sooba did not turn up. But then Ms Sooba does not consider herself answerable at any level to the city council, and has accused the Mayor of causing confusion over the matter of reinstating the contracts, because the M&CC does not have the authority to enter into or continue any contract. What Mr Green needed to do, this newspaper quoted her as saying, is find out “why the trucks are not operable and… why the brand new compactor is still in [the City Hall] compound and to also find out who are the people responsible for this.”
This is very strange, because in fact she is the authority responsible for all of this and she is the one, not the M&CC, to whom the municipality’s heads of department and ultimately their staff too, are accountable. Subsequently this newspaper was given to understand that the compactor which had been stationed in the City Hall compound for the past couple of months (“like a green monument” in Mayor Green’s words) had been dispatched to Stabroek Market to alleviate the garbage situation there. So the beleaguered citizens of the capital are still waiting to learn what the Town Clerk and her bosses in the Ministry of Local Government have in mind to give us some relief from the garbage pile-up. If this is the prelude to yet another cynical attempt to install an IMC before local government elections, no one is fooled; the citizens of Georgetown are long past the stage of playing games.