The proximate cause of the failings of the Georgetown City Council to maintain the Garden City image and the aesthetic of the city over the past three decades is rooted not in an inadequacy of resources; not in miserly subventions, but in the corruption, incompetence, arrogance and clear lack of political will to deliver by those at the helm at City Hall. There was no interest at all on the part of the council in remedying its many shortcomings to improve the services they provide. Indeed, much energy was expended diverting attention from the inadequacies of those at the helm of the council who must ultimately be held accountable for its failings.
The frequent outbursts of those at the helm of the city council must be seen for what they are: clever attempts at political posturing and machinations aimed at excusing themselves from culpability to provide the services they are legally required by law to deliver to citizens in return for the rates and taxes they pay. Council appeared unable or unwilling or disinterested in carrying out its mandate as prescribed in the Municipal and District Councils Act. Instead, much energy was expended in blaming the PPP/C government for the failure of the city council to deliver.
The failure of the city council to carry out its mandate is due in large measure to poor management of available resources. There is an obvious lack of interest in going after the huge debt estimated at $22B with interest. Even the amnesty offered to debtors does not attract the desired results which one would expect because the Debt Recovery Unit does not appear to be proactive. Furthermore, what is collected is poorly managed.
Expenditure controls are almost non-existent, notwithstanding the recommendations of the Burrowes Enquiry and the Ramon Gaskin and Auditor General Reports. These reports all offer serious recommendations for improvement in the financial situation of the council and the extent and quality of services the council provides. The council appears to be interested only in those things in which members have a personal interest, notably, staff loans and advances; overtime abuse; the rental of trucks instead of fixing their own. This is a haemorrhaging of scarce resources. Or is it that, in the APNU+AFC government, council is confident that it has a banker to whom it could always turn in times of need, eg, to pay the solid waste contractors?
Market revenue is used primarily to help meet employment costs that include scores of inactive, underemployed staff of the city council administration, and very little of it is spent on maintaining, expanding or improving market infrastructure or, what is even more desirable, providing additional market infrastructure and so address the sanitation and environmental challenges occasioned by illegal vending.
Reports of vendors paying city constables (the latter are not authorized to collect revenue) with no receipts issued go uninvestigated, while the city council has been losing millions through corruption. There are also reports that thousands collected by City Hall officials from Bourda vendors and persons vending along Merriman’s Mall do not find their way into the council’s coffers. Meanwhile, City Hall is yet to formulate a relocation plan for Stabroek /Parliament View Mall vendors. I call on the council not to allow their own selfish agenda to inhibit their work.
What about the PPP/C government’s financial and other support to the council? The PPP/C government was oftimes forced to pump millions of dollars into the city council’s coffers annually to bail them out of their financial woes. For the years 2007 to 2014 financial support to the extent of $357 M was provided, and this excludes the cost of a number of compactor trucks, pick-ups and garbage bins given to the council, and the several clean-up campaigns which the PPP/C government initiated and supported, including the $500M Clean-up Georgetown which activity the city council had agreed to maintain.
What about the council’s indifference to accountability? When the PPP/C government brought these matters to the attention of the council, we were often accused of wanting to deny the illegal vendors an opportunity to earn a living. The vendors were either duped or enticed to commit to vote for the APNU+AFC at the May 2015 General and Regional Elections. Sadly when the APNU+AFC government took office, it demolished their structures.
Following the local government elections of March 18, 2016 and the election of a new council at City Hall, the latter resolved, inter alia, to a) put a new revenue collecting mechanism in place with an expected significant jump in revenues; (b) have a revaluation of property and a change of status of some from residential to commercial; (c) have better car and bus park management; (d) issue of land leases, etc. These measures are yet to be put in place. Albeit the APNU+AFC government has made available to City Hall over $300 M and has committed to provide a further $180 M to help the inefficient council to meet expenditures to which the latter committed without resources.
But the issue of increasing the revenue base and so making more resources available to the council cannot be considered independent of the present performance of the council where issues of accountability are concerned. Access to more resources must be based, inter alia, on service delivery and overall performance including transparency and accountability for resources already at the disposal of council. The latter’s present operations are shrouded in lack of transparency, incompetence and arrogance.
The way things are done at City Hall should be improved by strengthening capacity at the level of the human resource; improving revenue collection and expenditure controls to guard against misuse of assets; addressing issues of governance. Good governance is essential for sustainable development and the council must take measures to improve good governance practice by, inter alia, involving the citizens in policy-making, public education and awareness; and by providing an opportunity for citizens to have a greater involvement in decision-making with respect to their own development and that of the communities in which they live. Then and only then would we begin to arrest the excesses and mismanagement at City Hall, provide reliable, timely and quality services to citizens and restore the confidence, credibility and the trust of citizens in the work of the council. Is this asking too much?