For at least a decade, if not longer, waste disposal in the city has been operating on a teetering pile of debt, which the average citizen knows is not a good thing. From time to time, over the years, whenever the pile got too high, the two private waste removal contractors that have been servicing the city made the appropriate noises and sometimes took the action they felt was necessary to secure payments.
Unfortunately, the debts are so high that the payment only covers a fraction of what is owed, but the trucks usually start rolling again detoxifying the city from the garbage that would have piled up for the week or two that the service stopped. And so for years there has been a start/stop/repeat approach to garbage collection. It is wearying and frustrating and unfortunately there is no end in sight.
For the second time in two years, the Mayor and City Council (M&CC), through Town Clerk Royston King, has thrown down the gauntlet to the embattled private waste removal contractors. The actions, both in August 2016 and now, smack of what we would call in Guyanese parlance, ‘wrong and strong’.
Last year August, the country’s largest garbage disposal contractors—Cevons Waste Management and Puran’s Brothers Waste Disposal Inc—had warned City Hall, as they had done on countless occasions, that they had no choice but to suspend their services as their debts had become unsustainable. They cited outstanding payments to employees and creditors and noted that they were owed $168 million and $95.8 million respectively.
Of course, this was par for the course. Georgetown residents had seen this play enacted so often, they could have directed it and/or written the next act. But not this time. Instead of promising to pay and dig yet another hole as was its wont, the M&CC dramatically countered with an order to suspend the services of the contractors in certain areas of the city. Town Clerk King had said that the M&CC would remove refuse from those areas itself, thereby cutting costs. Indeed, the city’s Solid Waste Director Walter Narine had told this publication that self-collection would save the city $14 million a month.
No one would or should frown on the city being able to save $14 million a month. After all, the M&CC under various administrations has been cash-strapped for at least two decades. As a result, all of its services have suffered: from markets to the cemetery and from roads and drainage to day care services. However, it all seemed rather convenient. If indeed the city was able to save millions by taking garbage out of a few areas itself, why hadn’t this option been explored prior to the companies going public with their concerns over the city’s indebtedness?
Isn’t this the same M&CC which had been searching every nook and cranny and looking under every stone and parking meter to raise funds? It seemed that rather than just moving garbage, the M&CC just might have been talking it as well. Mr King insisted that there were no legal ramifications to making this move and that in fact, the waste disposal companies were on board with it. Neither Cevons nor Puran’s called his bluff. And there has been no follow up from the M&CC as to how its self-collection worked and how it spent or planned to spend the $14 million a month it was saving, which to date would have amounted to just about $168 million.
Fast forward to today and the wheel has spun full circle. Puran’s and Cevons, still owed substantial amounts, had withdrawn their services last month for a short period. They had held talks with the M&CC and subsequently recommenced garbage collection since there had been agreement that payments would have been made. It was after there were none forthcoming and the companies pressed again for their debts to be serviced, threatening withdrawal, that the M&CC terminated their contracts and announced that henceforth, three small named companies would remove waste in the city.
Of course, this does not deal with the now $300 million debt to Cevons and Puran’s which still remains outstanding. Meanwhile, the M&CC will obviously have to find funds to pay the new contractors, unless it plans on running up high debts with them as well. Citizens might be temporarily consoled by knowing that their garbage will be removed as per normal, hopefully with the same efficiency. However, the inability of the M&CC to manage waste disposal issues fills no one with confidence; citizens might as well prepare for the next debacle.