(This is the fifth part in a series on the state of local government considering that elections have not been held in 20 years)
By Mario Joseph
Roads are a major problem in the PPP/C stronghold of La Jalousie/Nouvelle Neighbourhood Democratic Community (NDC) though the community appears to be in better shape than others.
The NDC is responsible for eight villages, comprised of an estimated 4,500 residents. They are tasked with the maintenance of one community ground attached to the NDC, three schools and two cemeteries. Staffed with a new assistant overseer, two security guards and one cleaner, the council operates without any heavy -duty machinery like some of the other NDCs. Two Ministry of Agriculture employees and an Environmental Protection Agency representative are stationed at the location and perform special duties since the neighbourhood is an agricultural community. Aside from that, the NDC employs labourers as needed. The council currently functions with eight councillors some of whom are replacements from the original batch of PPP-affiliated community members who won a no contest election according to Chairman, Guyadeen.
The West Coast NDC is North-bounded by the Demerara River, South-bounded by the Boerasirie Canal, West by a trench between La Jalousie and Blankenburg and East by a trench between Vreed-en-Hoop and Pouderoyen that ends at Nouvelle. Despite facing a similar dilemma as other NDCs, with their budget estimates only approved on May 22nd 2014, the NDC remains a stronghold for the current government.
Guyadeen who was reticent about being interviewed said to Stabroek News “Everything in local government is alright …The government did a lot of good things for this community”. He went on to say that the Windsor Forest NDC was the first to put up street lights – in 1994 – and they have transformed the mud roads to asphalt, have built several small bridges, are currently benefiting from a $141M infrastructure project for a new drainage pump and are negotiating a major road rehabilitation project to be concluded before the year is out. One other fact that the chairman boasted of was that his community is so satisfied and pleased that 80% of the total rates and taxes have already been paid, with the year only half way through.
When Stabroek News attended the NDC’s monthly statutory meeting on June 12th, scheduled for 15:00 hours, half an hour had passed and only four members had arrived, all of whom were reluctant to provide information for this article. The staff, too, were unable to provide information as they were advised against doing so by their chairman. The delay in attendance, they explained was due to the individual councillors’ working hours.
What the residents say
Residents of the Windsor Forest area were sought for comment on the troubles they face as a community but most approached were unwilling to provide any comment, saying only that they are happy with the work the government is doing. This however was not entirely the case as most of the streets that Stabroek News visited were riddled with potholes and trenches filled with vegetation. It was from those streets that this newspaper was able to find outspoken residents. Apart from the potholes, the community did not seem to have major problems.
One resident who was willing to speak, lived in 1st Street, Windsor Forest where the roads exemplified decay. Poonabasie Mathura said that she has lived in the community for the past six years and had a few small complaints. She said that she was dissatisfied with the state of the roads because they were filled with potholes. She also complained about vegetation in the drains and trenches. She said that apart from those two dilemmas, she has no more quarrels with the state of the community except that she has to pay privately for garbage collection when she pays the NDC rates and taxes to do just that. Mathura said she doesn’t know much about the work of the council and added that she doesn’t think that they do anything. When asked about Local Government Elections (LGE), she knew well enough that it is the process whereby various village councilors are elected countrywide. The 32 year old who had never voted in LGE before went on to say that she is very concerned that it hasn’t been held in 20 years. She further lamented, “It is not fair for people to be there for so long. I want to vote. I want to have a say. If the people don’t have a say that who does?”
Resident of 3rd street, Windsor Forest, Kalowtie Rampersaud, said that she has lived in the community for the past 15 years and had nothing good to say about the council. She, admitting to knowing little of the work of the council, but was able to reprimand them for what she deemed, “working when they feel like”, as she referred to the drains. She said that residents have to weed and clean their own drains but still pay rates and taxes. She continued to complain, saying the condition of the roads speaks volumes and that she suffers flooding when it rains heavily. She did mention that the koker helps to alleviate the problem but that recently it has been down for maintenance. With no backup system in place, the flooding persists. Having no knowledge of LGE, she said she’d rather say nothing on the matter even after it was explained to her.
Shantie Bissoon-Ramotar, of 3rd Street, Windsor Forest said that she has been a resident of the locale for over 31 years and had much to complain about but was reluctant to do so. She eventually started to list the problems she faced starting with the condition of the roads, saying that they’re really bad. She said that they are full of so much mud that the school children cannot walk through. This, she said, gets harder during the rice harvesting season because the tractors deposit loads of mud from the backdams onto the roads. She also complained about flooding but cited the relief provided by the koker when it is utilized. She went on to say that she is forced to clean her own drains because the “village office” (NDC) cannot be relied upon. When asked about LGE, the 52 year old said that she learnt what she knows from the news but has no words for the situation. She went on to say that she never voted but would certainly do so if the elections is called.
Mohammed Rasheed, a cash crop farmer well-versed in council affairs spoke to Stabroek News and gave a view of his circumstances. He said that he lived in neighbouring La Jalousie from birth to the age of 29 and then in Windsor Forest for the last 25 years. During this time he said that he has farmed rice, livestock and now vegetables. This career, he said, has forced him to confront the village office and work with them. Airing his views on the work of the council, he said that they are doing well but he doesn’t expect them to please everybody. He asserted that the community is in good standing and well maintained by the council.
He asserted that the major problem that they are facing is the proposition by Puran Brothers Disposal Services to build a landfill behind the rice fields. This, he said, will pollute the waterways that run through the farms and is used by the animals. He also said that a landfill would change the topography of the area and may hinder farming. This problem, he said, is currently engaging the attention of the council who are making efforts to try to prevent the initiation of such a landfill. When asked about LGE, Rasheed said that the council is comprised of educated and professional people and they are functioning well but acknowledges the need for LGE. He said that the election would see much improvements not only for their community but across the country and that he would definitely go out and vote if it is held.