Opposition MPs upbraid Whittaker over $1B clean-up programme

–but $2.7B allocation for local govt approved

Estimates amounting to $2.7 billion for the Local Government Ministry were approved on Friday, even as members of the opposition criticised government’s proposed $1 billion ‘National Clean-Up Programme’.

Ever since plans for the clean-up initiative were announced by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh during the reading of the budget on March 24, members of the Alliance for Change (AFC) as well as A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) accused government of attempting to undermine and embarrass the local government organs tasked with the management of solid waste in their local authorities.

Singh, during his speech, had said that the initiative was necessary since some local government organs are “comatose,” and are failing to fulfil their mandate with regard to solid waste management in particular. Of the total amount allocated, half ($500 million) is to be used to rectify the situation in Georgetown alone while the rest will be used for clean-up and environmental enhancement in rural and urban areas. The funds and the initiative, it was said, will be managed by the Local Government Ministry.

Reiterating his party’s position during Friday’s consideration of the estimates, AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo said the ministry should not have taken it upon itself to take charge of the initiative, but instead entrust it to the local authorities.

He inquired of the minister the process that would inform how, and for what purposes the money would be used in Georgetown and other local authority areas.

According to Minister within Ministry of Local Government Norman Whittaker, the technical personnel of several ministries – Works, Local Government, Tourism and Agriculture – will be involved in determining specific initiatives, in addition to stakeholders representing the private sector, residents, and even the city councils and other local authorities in which the initiative will be executed.

With regard to determining projects on which the money will be spent, Whittaker said a needs assessment will be carried out by the aforementioned stakeholders to determine same. He added that needs, resources and a responsible agency to move the project forward will also be identified in the assessment exercise.

However, although the minister shared plans to include local authorities in the execution of the initiative, he said that there are no plans to disburse money to any local authority council.

It was APNU MP and Shadow Local Government Minister Ronald Bulkan who bemoaned the fact that local authorities, particularly the Georgetown City Council whose authority area will benefit from $500 million, have been relegated to simple stakeholders with regard to such substantial investment.

AFC MP Valerie Garrido-Lowe asked Whittaker if any assessment was carried out to determine how much would be allocated for the plan. In response Whittaker told the House that a regional solid waste programme commenced last year, in accordance with which preliminary work has been done to identify areas for various work to be done.

He said the plan will see works done to monuments, cemeteries, drains, sluices, kokers among other areas. Whittaker also said that a portion of the funds will be devoted towards raising public awareness about the clean-up programme, while amounts will also be spent to carry out monitoring and evaluation exercises.

APNU MP Desmond Trotman noted that the explanation given by the minister was very vague, which may indicate that enough thought was not given to the initiative before the money was allocated. With regard to the inclusion of the local authorities in the programme, he pointed out that the minister seems to only have included the local government organs as an afterthought, and therefore has no intention in allowing them to play a prominent role in the programme.

Estimates for an allocation for over $1 billion towards the completion of the Haags Bosch landfill site were scrutinised. Nagamootoo asked Whittaker if the amount was intended to complete the construction of the facility. Whittaker answered in the affirmative, explaining that the site is set for completion before the end of the year. He said however, that finances will still be required to run the site for the duration of its lifetime.

BK International was contracted to construct the landfill in 2010 but to date only one of its four cells has been completed. Also, BK, which was also contracted to operate the landfill, had said that it is accepting double its daily limit, and that this will cut the cells’ ten-year lifespan by as much as three years each.

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