Our municipal civil service

Up to the time of local government elections last year, for the first time in more than two decades, there appeared to have existed the notion (at least in some quarters) that a change in the political administration at City Hall would necessarily bring about a corresponding transformation in the performance of the municipal civil service.

It is by no means surprising that assumption has proven to be entirely groundless since, in the first instance, it failed to take account of the fact that a change in the elected leadership of the council would not necessarily bring about a qualitative change in the attitude of City Hall’s civil servants to service delivery. The fact is that last year’s local government elections left in place functionaries who had survived probes that had fingered City Hall’s civil service for irregularities ranging from padded payrolls to “paper companies.” It would have been absurd to expect that a radical transformation in the quality of service delivery would come that easily.

Again the point should be made that between local government elections and now there has been no persuasive evidence of the sort of cleaning of the Augean Stables at the level of the municipal civil service that might lead us to believe that where honesty, integrity and commitment are concerned, we have turned the proverbial corner. Bad habits in some areas of City Hall’s modus operandi persist. That apart, to the underperformance that has long characterized the municipal civil service has been added what would appear to be not infrequent excursions into the most outrageous and ill-advised brazenness on the parts of its administrative leaders.

The parking meter fiasco and the city’s multi-million-dollar liabilities to its garbage collection contractors are, in their respective ways, indicators of the financial bind in which it finds itself. In those instances, the Town Clerk, particularly, has done City Hall’s cause (to say nothing about its already dismal image) little good by appearing to favour bluster and heavy-handedness over discreet diplomacy in the handling of these matters. In the instance of the parking meters he has   hit an unexpected wall erected by a section of resilient citizens tired of rulership by edict. In the instance of the out-of-pocket garbage disposal companies, City Hall, on account of its mishandling of the matter may well be leading us (God forbid) down the road towards an urban sanitation crisis.

Last week, the Town Clerk employed his customary assertive tone to disclose the reading of a ‘riot act’   against defaulting business houses in the capital in a quest to recover amounts in excess of $4 billion owing to the municipality. He named five companies that had been served   with notices threatening the seizure of “movable property.” Mind you, City Hall is perfectly in order for moving to bring defaulters to book over their protracted delinquency, though one can hardly overlook the fact that the mountain of debts owing to the city has a lot to do with what, not infrequently, are the mercurial relationships which it has shared for years with some of those very urban ratepayers in the business community, not least a thoroughly unreliable, discredited collection regime.

In his most recent ‘proclamation,’ Mr King declares that the council is not about to have big business get away with not paying their taxes when ordinary property owners have been complying, as though big business delinquency has not been pretty much the order of the day over the years. The question arises, therefore, as to whether the “seizure of movable property” threat is a genuine – albeit decidedly belated – effort on the part of City Hall at serious debt-collection, or whether it is not simply one of its customary theatrical exercises designed to secure a measure of public attention and which will evaporate as quickly as it has materialized. Or can we dare to believe that this latest City Hall attempt to raise some cash in a jiffy, so to speak, is a response to a genuine tweak of conscience over the unconscionable sums that it owes to its garbage collectors, coupled with the realization that it simply has to raise its game as far as the quality of its services to the capital is concerned.

The key issue here has to do with whether City Hall ought not to begin immediately to engage in a serious evaluation of its civil service, not least, its leadership, in order to determine whether, in terms of either capability or commitment, it is suitably equipped to effectively administer the affairs of the capital, bearing in mind its seriously blemished track record. What remains painfully apparent is that it faces an enormous popularity deficit with its most important constituency, the citizens of Georgetown; secondly, it continues to be tainted by the layers of corruption that have been peeled away by the various inquiries; thirdly, it has proven itself to be inept, to say the least, in effectively managing some of the very crucial areas that have to do with the well-being of the capital. Recovering from these enormous handicaps will take some doing.

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