No one could have imagined that so much hidden talent resided at the apex of our capital city. If the world’s leading comedy writers had scripted a soap with a local government theme, they could not possibly have improved on what our Georgetown worthies and their associates have managed – and seemingly effortlessly at that. Of course, the show has an undeniable star in the form of the comedically gifted Ms Carol Sooba, but let us not underestimate the abilities of her supporting cast, who independently of her would be an asset to any theatrical production.
Sometime in the years to come a future historian will be rolling around in their chair in the National Archives laughing uncontrollably while reading about the sequence of events in Guyana’s capital city, but here in the present the humour of it all is not the first thing which comes to mind when citizens contemplate the actions of those who manage their affairs.
First Ms Sooba ended a statutory meeting because she was not allowed to say prayers, and at the next special meeting she locked the Mayor and councillors out of the chamber, no doubt emboldened by the fact that the Minister of Local Government Norman Whittaker had also written them telling them not to hold a meeting. Nevertheless, they went ahead and met in the compound anyway, where, among other things, they voted to remove Ms Sooba as acting Town Clerk, naming Mr Royston King as her replacement.
All of this, of course, took place in the context of a legal sub-plot. In the first instance Mr King had gone to court over Ms Sooba’s appointment as Town Clerk, and the Chief Justice had found it had been unlawful since it had not been made by the Local Government Commission (which does not exist), as is required. His ruling did not extend to preventing Minister Whittaker from retaining her as acting Town Clerk, however, and the latter promptly announced that he would be doing this.
The residents of Georgetown then found that their city was in the unique position of having two acting Town Clerks – one appointed by the Mayor and City Councillors, and the other by the Minister within the Local Government Ministry. It was against this background that the statutory meeting of May 12 was held, when Mr King took up the position of acting Town Clerk, and Ms Sooba then “charged in,” as our reporter described it, and announced to the assembled councillors, “The legal Town Clerk is here and there is not going to be a statutory meeting.”
According to our report of May 13, Mr King did not move, whereupon his rival seized a chair and placed it in front of him. In the meantime, Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase Green and PPP Councillor Kamla Devi Ross exchanged insults over the microphone normally used by the Town Clerk. Ms Sooba then left the chamber in the company of the officers of the council, following which Mayor Hamilton Green arrived to preside. However, then information about a bomb was drawn to the officials’ attention, and while they believed it was a hoax designed to bring an end to the meeting and they wanted to continue, they had to leave nevertheless for the room to be searched.
This is high-end comedy, but is it really what the citizens of Georgetown pay their rates and taxes for?
The anomaly of the two acting Town Clerks came to an abrupt end after the indefatigable Attorney General Anil Nandlall went to the High Court and secured a number of temporary orders, including one to suspend the decision by the city council to oust Ms Sooba as acting Town Clerk and install Mr King.
In the meantime, a disembodied voice from the bowels of the inaptly named Freedom House let the public know that the PPP was of the view that the time had come to install an Interim Management Committee in Georgetown. It is not the first time of course that such a call had come from that quarter; both Mr Clement Rohee and Ms Gail Teixeira had urged this approach in years gone by. However, to propose it at this stage could only be described as perverse. Apart from the fact that certain procedures, in particular an enquiry, would have to be followed in this instance – they have been bypassed in other places – this is a road to further confusion. Is the PPP so desperate to avoid local government elections that is has lost all sense of reality?
And how does the administration explain its reluctance to name the date for local government elections? It says that Gecom is not ready – which has been denied by Gecom. It was the spokesman for Gecom, Mr Vishnu Persaud who torpedoed that one when he explained that funds for Gecom to begin intensive public education exercises on local government elections cannot be released by the Ministry of Finance until the Local Government Minister announces a poll date. The ruling party has lost its last fig leaf on that one.
This is not to suggest that elections would solve all of Georgetown’s problems; far from it. The Local Government (Amendment) Bill, for example, that currently sits on the President’s desk awaiting his approval (which it seems will not be forthcoming) transfers some powers currently held by the minister to the Local Government Commission. Autonomy, however, is not what the governing party has in mind for local bodies, and particularly not for Georgetown. Be that as it may, the process to restore some rationality to the local government system begins quite simply with the people having their say about who should represent them. It would be much harder then for the central administration to continue along its traditional path, thumbing its nose at the people’s representatives, and the soap opera in its current form, at least, would have to close.
The PPP never tires of regaling everyone about the twenty-four years, when it campaigned for free and fair elections at all levels, and the PNC denied the people that constitutional right. Now we have a situation where the PNC as part of APNU and in alliance with the AFC is campaigning for free and fair local government elections which have been due since 1997, and the PPP in the form of the PPP/C is denying the people that constitutional right. It is yet another irony for the history books.