We, at the Mayor and City Council, wish to extend special season’s greetings to all of our valued citizens. We thank them for their cooperation and support for our collective effort at the Georgetown Municipality, to restore, revitalize and improve the conditions of all of our local communities in the city. Whether they supported us in our environmental awareness and education drive, our volunteer corps and its clean-up campaigns, environmental and public health activities, paying their general rates, uttering good and pleasant words of encouragement or offering criticisms, we were particularly pleased that they found ways to contribute to what we seek to do to advance the interest of our city. This has inspired a strong and necessary partnership.
This partnership between the municipality and citizens has facilitated a cleaner, healthier, greener Georgetown. A city we are all proud of. Indeed, dignity and pride have returned to the city and many citizens are rediscovering new respect, care and love for their environment. In fact, we have received numerous reports of civic-minded citizens rebuking litterbugs and persuading them to keep their surroundings clean and tidy. This kind of attitude could only redound to the development of our beloved capital and the good health of its citizens.
However, certain factors are responsible for the noticeable positive changes unfolding in our garden city. Here, we wish to flag three of them:
First, leadership: this competency is demonstrated at two levels ‒ national and local. Central government has been providing very strong leadership to the process of repairing the national image and reputation of Guyana. This is demonstrated by the strategic way it has structured its ministries and its approach to public affairs. About twenty-four hours after the swearing-in ceremony of President David Granger, he was on the ground cleaning up the Independence Arch on Brickdam; a remarkable show of leadership that was troublingly absent from our society for over two decades. Unsurprisingly, this has spurred the active interest and support of local residents, who, ever since that time, have been taking responsibility for the physical state of their environment. They have been organizing themselves into groups and mobilizing resources to promote the general well-being of their communities.
We have been complementing their efforts by using the communitarian approach. Essentially, we awarded small contracts to these local groups to do cleaning work in their neighbourhoods under specific terms of reference. Council awarded more than fifty such contracts in November 2015 and a similar number of communities were cleaned up. This permitted us to achieve three objectives: first, over one thousand residents, mostly young people, were employed by this approach, in their communities to clean up their neighbourhoods.
Second, inner communities were cleaned up. It is not necessary for us to pen a line about the environmental, social and other benefits that resulted from these activities. Suffice it to say that it made a significant difference in the aesthetics and general condition of the city.
Third, that process provided a forum for residents to participate in activities aimed at protecting and preserving the integrity of our natural environment and public health.
However, we, too, at the city council, have been giving good leadership to the process of restoring and advancing Georgetown. We have enhanced our capacity to deliver better services to citizens. We have been using cross- functional teams to increase productivity; improve coordination and integration; improve our focus on citizens; reduce time needed to process applications and other documents; and improve communication by having boundaries between functions spanned. We are constantly evaluating our systems to meet the needs of local communities.
We are challenging certain assumptions and values held by successive councils for decades. We are not only asking why, but why not, to things that are possible. A new Georgetown requires new ‘green’ thinking and attitude.
We are adjusting the behaviour of the municipality to make it more sensitive and responsive to the felt needs of the people and the extant and emerging realities of the environment in which we are called to carry out our statutory duties and which influence the decisions we make as a council. The current environment includes information technologies, globalization, social and demographic trends and climate change and global warming.
We are cleaning and greening all areas of the city. We continue to carry out massive desilting works to our alleyways, drains, canals and other waterways. We have restored open spaces, avenues, walkways and other thoroughfares; we have rebuilt bridges restoring the wrought iron designs on them; repaired defective street lights and installed new ones. We have started to install refuse receptacles in our main commercial areas, and generally improved our management of solid waste in Georgetown. We are repairing municipal buildings, our markets, and restoring our cemeteries. All in all, we have enhanced the fortunes of the city. We are moving forward. Sorry images of piles of rubbish on our streets, heavy overtopping, and parapets overgrown with weeds, bushes and long grass are scenes of the past.
We are aware that our detractors would fabricate other stories, using the lens of their cameras and particularly through social media, to distract citizens from the enormous amount of positive works in progress in our city. However, we remain unswervingly committed to the worthy task of rebuilding, restoring and developing Georgetown. Regardless of degrees of difficulty we together must push ahead for a healthy and resilient city. We have also been working towards good corporate governance within our municipality. We have been enhancing our human and technological competencies in our finance, markets and engineer departments. We have designed new systems to allow for greater transparency and accountability. We are developing a shared data base among our departments and even with related agencies. We have established our internal audit section and are ensuring value for money. We are seeing trends that suggest we are improving on our collection of general rates in Georgetown. More of our citizens are participating in city activities. Also, we are encouraging greater involvement of non-governmental organizations, groups and communities in the decision-making process at City Hall. We are crafting a special programme that will assist us to build the capacities of community groups to become much more involved in the affairs of the council and in the way we manage our neighbourhoods.
Moving forward, we believe that the council should operate in a more business-like way. The services we provide cost huge sums. For example, in 2015, garbage collection and disposal cost the council about $425 million, drainage approximately $200 million and environmental and public health about $230 million. It is not necessary for us to mention the substantial amount we expended on the host of other services we provide to citizens.
Yet, for all of that, some property owners have been treating the council unfairly; they have not been paying their rates. Understanding the financial predicament and economic constraints of some of our citizens, we granted an amnesty on interest on general rates for about two months. Unbelievably, some big corporations and property owners did not even make a telephone call to our treasury let alone come in and settle their accounts with us. It is sad but true. We know that in order for us to continue providing vital municipal services in an efficient and effective manner we need more money. Those who use more of our municipal services and facilities must pay more. For example, businesses must pay more to the council for collection of commercial and industrial waste. They generate more than private citizens and our solid waste department uses more fuel, transportation, space and other resources to haul such waste.
Also, the council must contemplate new and special rates and charges for those corporations and agencies whose businesses are contributing to environmental degradation. Those businesses that emit huge amounts of greenhouse gases must be required to pay more to allow the council the financial ease to put in place systems and measures that would offset the effects and impact of those emissions on the environment and public health. Those corporations and companies which run cables beneath and above city space must compensate citizens. Those corporations that use our parapets, verges, open spaces, thoroughfares and waterfronts must pay for utilizing such city spaces based on market value.
We continue to make the point that all city spaces including reserves, pavements and open areas are collectively owned by all the citizens residing in Georgetown. Therefore, those who utilize such spaces must compensate citizens through the city authority ‒ the Mayor and City Council ‒ for such uses.
We hold a similar view about the action of those who have made parts and, in some cases, entire drains and alleyway facilities impervious by concreting them. This continues to contribute to overtopping and attendant environmental problems in certain local communities.
Going forward, our constabulary will begin to take up its responsibility of managing and controlling traffic in council’s areas as required by the Municipal and District Councils Act, Chapter 28:01, and to enhance its crime detecting competencies.
Finally, at City Hall, we are propelled by a vision of greatness in a city with vast environmental, economic and cultural potential. We are on a new path to create a city whose natural environment is not polluted by toxic emissions, to develop cohesive neighbourhoods in which our children can play in spaces that are green, safe and healthy; our senior citizens can walk in the cool of the mornings or evenings, reflecting on their years; shrubs and trees can bloom in their seasons, casting their shadows in the evening sun and scrubbing the atmosphere clean of gases that hurt the environment; and parapets are kept clean and tidy. We are building a city characterized by its day care centres, schools, libraries, information technology centres, museums, zoological parks, cemeteries, and monuments to those who have served selflessly.
We are working together at City Hall for a city that is economically viable, multicultural, and socially cohesive and safe. However, this vision must be underpinned by a strong civic commitment and a sense of personal duty on the part of all citizens, to take responsibility for the state of their immediate and general environment, and to be ambassadors of this great capital.
Next year, 2016, will be a great year for us as we make Georgetown as glorious as her sun.
Happy New Year! from all of us at the Mayor and City Council.