I read your editorial of October 7 (‘The Kara Kara road toll’) and concurred with its poignancy in relation to development of or stifling of local government in Guyana. Adding a few more notes just demonstrates the egregiousness and morbid ill-governance of our state apparatus in this matter. The haste with which the decision was made is a sad reflection of how we manage, where some matters needing urgency and consultation are given dilatory treatment and others with personal agendas are treated with great urgency.
In fact this haste did not consider that one of their members had sought advice from one of his predecessors now performing duties as advisor. Advice was given which pointed in the direction of reducing fines which the council duly accepted and moved the process along with assent from the member. As recently as March 2013 the member sat for three hours as a presentation was made and called me stating that I should agree to go with budget 2013 because it was just a few millions more than last year. He signed for an increase in wages for the employees in that budget even though I am not sure there was an awareness that the minimum wage issue was coming. I had refused to sign the budget because of inaccuracies which were not corrected as well as the justification to make the revenue projected. The member approved the budget and exhorted the council to maximize on all its revenue bases in which the toll booth played a major part, in order to realise its programme in April 2013.
At a meeting on September 13, 2013 the question was put to the member that if the booth is ordered closed what alternative was available to fill the void. There was no definite answer except that cabinet’s sub-committee on finance will decide. However and in spite of this uncertainty the decision was given to close the booth and an order would follow. Council met and decided that the booth will remain open until a decision is made on the acquisition of the shortfall. Can one imagine a source which provides 40% of the revenue being closed whimsically without the concomitant new source to fill the gap? The member was also provided with information on the shortfall.
At a meeting convened today to discuss this matter among others after my return from abroad on council’s business, we were shown a letter from the member which requested a series of reports emanating from letters written by the Town Clerk asking for assistance from the MLGRD. This was information needed before ordering the closing of the booth. Once again the horse was pushing the cart in this ever degrading place where we are told that stones, asphalt, steel and glass are evidence of virtual development whilst people’s lives and livelihoods stagnate.
More befuddling was a statement by this member that he did not sanction an increase in wages and salary for workers. Good Heavens! This government allowed a national minimum wage payable July 1, 2013 and all were expected to comply. Nearly 85% of the workers were bunched up at $24,808/month and so the movement to $35,000 even though still not adequate was welcomed. The obvious thing is that those above the $24,808 should have been raised at least relatively and this was agreed to by all present including the member and the General Secretary of the GLU. How do you answer to the question of who authorized increases for the workers without getting cynical?
Local government is a stifling debauched system. It is no wonder that some people are corrupt and other turn their faces when it is evident. As chairman I receive a very ‘whopping’ $15,000/month stipend and on my return from overseas I was informed that personnel from the MLGRD questioned who authorised allowing me US$300 to go on an exchange visit to Nanchaun People’s government, our sister municipality who we twinned with, over three years ago. Good they did not ask me because the response would have been straight out of the gutter. Except the Mayor of New Amsterdam, I know of no other mayor or chairman who gets duty concessions. These are reserved for friends. So you see the manner of management not only traps administrators but attempts to rope in practitioners as well.
Act 12 of 1980 says that mayors, deputies et al should be full time. Not so for the past 33 years. This is all an attempt to keep the control and when funds are short you have to go with the begging bowl. I have always preached to my councillors to try hard to maintain independence and even though sums may be offered let us work hard to do it by ourselves. For the first time the organisation achieved a little breathing room with less stress and this is the kind of reward.
Control of local organs is the mantra in the state outfit and this will not be released without international but pivotal conditionalities. Though welcomed, the reforms will have to move to a complete review of the Cap 28:01. I have counted no less than 30 instances in the Act where the Minister or Prime Minister has to approve/ratify councils decisions in relation to finance, borrowing, accounting, audits, asset acquisition, by-law enactment, discipline, terminations, appointments, work programme et al. Simply, devolution of power is a myth in this current dispensation. In local parlance they exhibit a ‘cochore culture.’
In closing, several persons have asked me when I will be ready for them to go on the streets. One particular petite and quiet individual touched me immensely when she said she is not burning her garbage and she wants action. I did not envisage the level of resentment by so many residents on the decision. I was hoping we did not provide a scenario for people to react and they have said clearly they are smarter now.
We must ‘bun the baiting.’