The Public Relations Officer of the city council has written to the press about consultations done to determine the priorities for the Georgetown municipality and about pervasive criticisms levelled “every time the Georgetown Municipality seeks to employ a new revenue earning venture”. Indeed we have read numerous articles and letters criticising the operations of the city council and especially its methodology which appeared to be rooted in the principles of disregard, disrespect and bullying. Some of the issues have been highlighted by councillors who had the good sense make citizens aware of the state of transparency and accountability in the city. Although the people have a part to play, the state of affairs should be placed at the feet of the council.
Engagement of the citizens on setting the priorities for the city is a step in the right direction and I applaud the city in earnest rather than facetiously. Consultations should be pursued fervently as they provide empowerment and self-determination which should be hallmarks of local government. Nevertheless, the city should elaborate on the thoroughness of the engagement. The PRO’s letter does not indicate whether determination of the approaches to garnering the requisite financial inputs were addressed with the people. This is important since it should be recognised that agreement on the priorities does not imply approval of the methodologies if these were not specifically discussed.
The council should furthermore consider the broken trust for which it needs to make amends. An excerpt from a column by Transparency Institute Guyana Incorporated (TIGI), that was published on May 4, 2016 in SN indicates that “the public tends to have greater trust in institutions when the authorities are not expected to abuse their powers to intentionally cause harm or serve narrow interests without consideration of the harm done. In return, the citizens tend to defer more to decisions made by officials and to voluntarily comply with rules (Khodyakov, 2007).”
The city council has in my view not yet earned the confidence of the people and it should not be surprised that it is not necessarily trusted or allowed to determine just measures for generating revenue. Once trust is broken, the road to redemption can be long and perilous. In the current scenario, where the top echelons of the city council so recently appeared to be strangers to the concepts of democracy, transparency and accountability, it is perhaps unrealistic to expect rapid change in the attitudes of the people, especially when some city officials remain obstinate and unrepentant and when some of the issues remain unresolved.
The city should continue on the path of citizen engagement. To build trust and to inform everyone, the city should provide accurate and complete information on its operations in a timely manner, and it should become more responsive and accountable to the people. Tipping a low trust or a distrust equilibrium requires sustained effort and genuine commitment to democratic principles. The PRO and the council are faced with an uphill task, and it is important to consider that impatience can be counterproductive. I wish to take the opportunity to commend the upstanding councillors who continue to put the citizens first.