The time has come for the business of the city to be run by business persons

Dear Editor,

Your most trenchant editorial under the caption ‘Political pawn’ (Sunday Stabroek December 1) should be required essential reading for the President, each member of the cabinet, each minister and every member of the parliamentary opposition all of whom are asked to appreciate that it concerns the state and fate of Georgetown, the capital city of the Republic of Guyana.  And Oh yes! the human beings who are its citizens!

The redemption of our capital from its descent into an object of shame from every viewpoint, be it moral, political, environmental, administrative and financial has been for many months my particular vision and the lamentations of so many individuals, culminating with your most poignant editorial convince me that I must with greatest urgency expand upon the recommendations made over two years ago.  Their essence was and remains, with even more emphasis today, that the legal and administrative provisions for the government of Georgetown cry out for urgent and radical change.  The extraordinary conditions to be addressed require extraordinary and controversial legal provisions.   These are my present focus.

I am not unaware of the insistence by various political minds, with the endorsement by ambassadors of the foremost western nations, that the holding of local government elections is an essential precondition for the forward movement of our country.  Yes! Yes! I know! But from my admittedly selfish standpoint, I proffer the city of Georgetown as a patient in need of urgent selective treatment that cannot tolerate postponement.

It is essential that we shun tradition and recognize that the management and administration of our city corporation constitute an extremely serious business operation that can no longer tolerate as its council of management the quality of personnel produced by the national electoral process, the better product of which would ordinarily be absorbed by service at the level of the National Assembly.  A council of the quality urgently needed to redress our present crisis and to confront and discharge the obligations inherent in the local government of our capital city and acting as its virtual board of directors must be possessed of the skills, imagination and perspectives essential to the management and operation of a company or corporation charged with delivering the wide range of services demanded of the managers of a capital city.  Regrettably, Georgetown is not so blessed at this time!

Having regard to the range and nature of those services, the capacity to employ senior personnel of requisite academic and practical quality is a primary essential.  Graduates in Business Administration, Finance, Civil and Sanitary Engineering, Highway Engineering, Medicine, Public Health, City Police, Abattoirs, Market Facilities, Cemeteries and, of course, Solid Waste Disposal – domestic, commercial and industrial.

So, this is where my proposed City of Georgetown Management Authority (CGMA) enters the fray.  The old hackneyed and disrespected arrangement is clearly out of place.  The present government has employed the device of the Interim Management Committee across the local government spectrum. I am not competent nor prepared to comment on its propriety or effectiveness.  Suffice it to say that it has attracted much publicized communal disfavour attributable no doubt to its employment as a government control device with minimal, if any, communal input.  Enough of that!

The time has come for the business of the city to be run by business persons.  Arising out of, or despite the new local government legislation, the government with full co-operation of the opposition must without delay, embark upon the legal creation and institution of the GCMA – the name matters not – with the involvement of the Private Sector Commission, Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Trades Union Congress.  This authority well qualified as recommended and resolved to give true and faithful service, without fear, favour, ill-will or political party pollution, would address every aspect of the city’s resurrection and continuing management with an initial life-span of at least five years.

I express my principal concerns at the moment and propose for immediate action.  The following:-

 

Finance

I noted with especial shame, the pitiful reported efforts of the Deputy Mayor and a few officers to craft a measly budget of about two billion dollars for the management of the city with its extensive geographical compass eastwards to and including Cummings Lodge and southwards including Agricola.  Mission impossible!  A realistic figure of about five billion should be urgently contemplated as the government in consultation with the opposition prepares its budget for presentation to the National Assembly in February, 2014.

We must as citizens, however, make a few important concessions.  The general rates (inaccurately described as “rates and taxes”), at least for the residential household, are far too low having regard to the range and quality of services we expect and even the poor quality of some of those we actually receive.

Again, it is incumbent upon our collective mind that we arrive at a credible, and practical legal device for the recovery of the horrendous amounts of outstanding and overdue rates.  Your editorial cited above did make reference to existing legal obstacles, which I suspect have never received requisite attention.

It is crucial that adequate finance be assured for the proposed CGMA in order to support the employment of the quality of personnel recommended for its effectiveness.

As I wrote on the morning of Friday 6th December I was jolted by the SN headline of the previous day announcing the confirmation as Town Clerk of the highly controversial and certainly unqualified person Ms Sooba.  I am confident that my proposed City Management Authority is hardly likely to preserve or produce a similar atrocity.

 

Buildings/town planning

Many aspects of the rampant physical development of the city particularly in its several burgeoning areas of building construction cause me to wonder if the Town and Country Planning legislation is no longer operative or the agency inactive. Zoning, compliance with a building code, distances between buildings and boundaries seem a foreign concept.  The ornate City Hall building which was once the object of such civic pride, now barely stands, decrepit and deteriorated, as it is fast being demoted to an architectural irrelevance by towering structures in nearby Charlotte Street and King Street.

Well, having already written the above based my simple observation and suspicions, I came upon an article under the heading ‘Construction Boom or Economic Confusion’ on page 10 of KN of Sunday, December 1, attributed to Mr Trini Boyce, Vice Chairman of the City Hall Works Committee.  I am deeply indebted to Mr Boyce not only for his written revelations, but also for their oral confirmation in our ensuing telephone conversation.  Many of our readers would deduce from the above that the finances of the present council, as well as to the authority would be negatively affected if the valuations for the rating of those new buildings continue to be the same low values applicable to the old one they replace.

This is clearly a highly corrupt process.

I harbour in my layman’s mind a deep concern over the physical threat to our aged sewerage system by the proliferation of high-rise commercial structures within the one square-mile that once represented the dear old city.

But, dear Editor, despite the obvious shame, physical inconvenience and economic loss to citizens associated with the garbage/solid waste tragedy, all of which could be resolved with timely administrative action, my major continuing concern resides over the activity of an increasing number of our property-owing business entitles and citizens.  I refer to the rapacity with which so many continue to make grievous assault upon our parapets and reserves, depriving the community of communal land and virtually grabbing public property by extending their occupation to the edge of the adjacent roadway.  It is a disease which manifests its ugliness all over the city for both commercial and domestic purposes and one that must therefore be brought to a speedy end.  The commercial land-owner places furniture like tables, chairs and similar amenities, often covered by an awning of permanent quality, all for the entertainment of his paying guests.  Another impertinent device is the painting of “No Parking”, or “Customer Parking Only” signs on the covered parapet and even on the roadway in competition with or in defiance of the police and city council who alone possess the legal authority in that regard.

My main reason for personal abhorrence at these abominations is that the general public tend to respect and accept without objection these private acts of depredation which operate to deprive the public of communal land.

That despicable and predatory habit proliferates without objection from the authorities and the perpetrators celebrate in comfort their illegal land grabbing the undoing of which, because it is so widespread, would not be simple.  The grabbers have operated with the consent or acquiescence of the city council and with some confidence that they may rely upon the paid services of a section of the legal profession.  I therefore anticipate with greatest urgency the establishment of the new CGMA imbued with fearlessness, financial capacity and political confidence to arrest and where necessary reverse these abominations.

I say no more for now, except that I cannot wait for the unhealthy and unbecoming football imbroglio with the government versus the citizens and old city council to be brought to a speedy conclusion.  I also look forward with greatest anxiety to saying a not too fond farewell to the existing municipal managements and to wish all the faithful old guard good-night and good-bye.

Yours faithfully,

Leon O Rockcliffe

 

 

 

 

 

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