Time for Central Government to ‘call out’ City Hall

News late last week that City Hall is seeking a government bailout in excess of $400 million to liquidate its indebtedness to the two companies which, up until recently, had been the capital’s two biggest waste disposal entities, bares the full extent of the travails of the municipality. There is, as well, a generous measure of pantomime in the fact that its creditors in question are the same two waste disposal businesses whose services the municipality unceremoniously dispensed with some time ago after they had withdrawn their services out of concern that City Hall indebtedness not spiral further out of control. After they had done so, the municipality had disclosed that it would recruit other private operators to fill the breach.

From the very outset – and altogether unsurprisingly – things went awry. Private trucks could be seen picking up garbage in communities late into the evening, a practice that suggested that there was no reliable waste disposal schedule. Seemingly in the absence of the suitably-appointed vehicles for the proper containerization of the waste, there were instances in which attempts at garbage collection were leaving trails of refuse along roadways.

After that the Waste Disposal functionaries at City Hall had announced with its customary contrived aplomb that it was seeking to put its own hitherto cast-aside waste disposal trucks into service, creating the impression that it was on the road to easing out private contractors. Those announcements made no real impact simply because, having become thoroughly familiar with City Hall’s track record, no one seriously believed that it had the requisite maintenance capacity to keep its inventory in service for any significant period of time without protracted periods of interruption. We are offering no prizes for those citizens who had, at the outset, predicted that sooner rather than later the service would go awry.

As an aside the point should be made that official pronouncements about shielding the work of City Hall from official/government intervention holds little water with those who understand the relationship between the two. It took several months for it to be made public what had become clear much earlier, that is, that City Hall, largely on account of its long-standing and deep-seated management limitations, lacked the capacity to finance its own legitimate undertakings. That is exactly why, after a great deal of needless dithering, we have now moved to a juncture where the $400-odd millions owing to the two terminated contractors will almost certainly have to be liquidated through resort to the consolidated fund.

It comes as no surprise that City Hall, its glaring managerial limitations notwithstanding,  continues to behave as though it has a blank cheque to run the city as its pleases. We believe that the municipality might attract a good deal more sympathy for its challenges if it were simply to descend its proverbial ‘high horse,’ concede its myriad limitations, urgently seek out professional managerial advice and focus with as little distraction as possible, on the delivery of services. That apart, central government, which has an overarching responsibility to the City is surely failing in its responsibility if it remains silent over the abject and persistent failure of City Hall to deliver as key and critical a service as waste disposal to the capital without disruptions to the service that have serious implications for sanitation, safety and health. Put differently, government’s refusal to ‘call out’ City Hall over its persistent underperformance (in circumstances where it has both a right and a responsibility to do so) is allowing the municipality to get away with proverbial murder. If this does not change City Hall will come under no real pressure to make meaningful changes to its prevailing management practices which continue to have far-reaching negative effects on the condition of the capital.

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