Local Government Norman Whittaker yesterday said that he would have to be “dumb and stupid” to give the City Council the $500 million that had been allocated to clean up Georgetown.
“I can’t… I am not about to make funds available to City Council when the information, the records in my possession tell me that they have been misspending public funds. I have got to be dumb and stupid to make those funds available to them. I am not going to,” he said.
In March, during the budget presentation, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh had said that $1 billion will be spent on a countrywide clean-up campaign and $500 million of this would go towards enhancing the general physical environment of the capital.
Whittaker also flayed City Mayor Hamilton Green for ignoring him at the council’s statutory meeting, stating that his only reason for being there was to engage the councillors on matters affecting them. Whittaker and his officers walked out of the meeting as Green was dealing with announcements coming out of the council.
Green however told Stabroek News immediately following the statutory meeting that “I did not know the minister was there. I would have acknowledged him at the end of my announcements. Councillor Sobers brought it to my attention that he was there.”
PPP Councillors Victor Sobers and Kamla Devi Ross also lambasted the mayor for not acknowledging the presence of the minister arguing that if it was any other minister he would have done so at the commencement of the meeting.
Meanwhile, the minister proceeded to tell media operatives that he had written to the mayor asking that he be allowed to engage the council on the issues.
“He responded by way of email saying that the meeting was in order. That is why I am here today,” Whittaker said. He added, “The Deputy Mayor sent a hard copy of a letter suggesting the 30th. I said to her that ‘I didn’t write you I wrote the Mayor and he has responded positively’,” he said
However, Green said that because of events that transpired on Saturday at a public forum which both he and the minister attended, “I kept the position that we will see him on the 30th.”
Whittaker also said that he had wanted to give the councillors a chance to discuss concerns they had, including the problem with councillors not being paid their stipends. “…Problems with respect to the mayor’s fuel, with respect to the councillors and their stipends and most importantly with respect to the services they should be providing and are not providing. We are trying to help the council,” he said.
Whittaker also blasted the council for the time spent on dealing with trivial matters.
“What you have here is a demonstration of what City Council spends its time doing. About 50 minutes dealing with semantics, nothing productive,” he said.
“They have spoken nothing about what role they could play. They didn’t even ask me a question about what more they can do. All they talking about is a t that wasn’t crossed in the minutes or a word that has some other meaning. They are wasting the taxpayers’ money… Look the Deputy Mayor spending 40 minutes talking what I consider to be foolishness,” he added.
Whittaker, also speaking on the forum that was held on Saturday, said that Green had asked an irrelevant question which he ignored. “He uses this forum seeing my presence to bring it up again,” the minister added.
Meanwhile, a source close to City Hall said that the minister ought to have engaged councillors at a different forum. He should not have attempted to use the statutory meeting, in the presence of officers and members of the public to discuss such matters, the source added, noting that the council had written to the minister several times and he had not responded.
Responding to Whittaker’s statement that the council misuses funds, the source said: “Who could misuse money more than the government itself? One only has to look at the concerns expressed in the local dailies to see who is really misusing money. Let the minister bring the evidence then. He must say that Sooba’s misappropriation of $500,000 was not evidence of misuse of council funds. He has not said a word about the $500,000…”
Meanwhile, Green also said that any misuse or misappropriation of funds was as a direct result of acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba who has been imposed on the council. “She controls the money,” he said.