Is the capital inching towards yet another garbage crisis?

Royston King

With the time frame for central government’s bailout initiative designed to rescue City Hall from a mountain of outstanding debt to its two major garbage collection contractors having expired on December 31 there appears to exist the very real fear that the capital may return to the proverbial square one insofar as the service is concerned. With evidence of a post-Christmas garbage pileup in the capital beginning to emerge it transpires that City Hall had, during the breathing space they had secured on account of government’s intervention, done little if anything to salvage what had become a badly damaged relationship with its two principal cleanup contractors.

Earlier this week the Stabroek Business saw a letter to Cevon’s General Manager Morse Archer from Town Clerk Royston King requesting that the company attend a meeting last Tuesday to discuss and agenda related to the return of Cevon’s and the other major contractor, Puran Brothers to garbage collection duties. Shockingly, the letter was dated December 31, a circumstance that begs the question as to just what City Hall was doing during the period November 27th – December 31st, the period during which government, through the Ministry of Public Works, was footing the bill for garbage collection in the capital. It appeared too, according to Archer, that in requesting a meeting, City Hall had overlooked the fact that it had, in November, terminated the services of both Cevon’s and Puran’s on the grounds that the two had broken the contract with the City by withdrawing their labour in protest over the non-payment over a protracted period of amounts totaling more than $300 million for services rendered for a period dating back to 2016.

Cevon’s General Manager
Morse Archer

Earlier this week, desperate it seemed, to avoid yet another garbage crisis in the capital King reportedly agreed to withdraw the letters terminating the contracts with the two companies in exchange for a resumption of garbage-collection duties and the negotiating of a new agreement at a meeting scheduled for yesterday, which, Archer told Stabroek Business “would seek to work out a new agreement that would protect from the situation that existed before” in which huge amounts of debts had piled up and where City Hall had no means with which to liquidate the debt.

Archer conceded, however, that there were few if any assurances that an agreement that would satisfy the garbage collectors would be reached in a hurry. The problem he said, being that insofar as the contractors could tell there was no evidence at the present time that City Hall would have the means to prevent yet another backlog of debts from building up. But City Hall is not the only one with a problem here.  Collecting garbage in the capital is a multi-million dollar contractual obligation and both companies are aware that given their considerable inventories of equipment as well as employees that cannot readily be re-directed to another assignment, retention of the city contract is critical to the viability of their overall operations.

In recent months Town Clerk King has been making noises about City Hall re-starting its own garbage disposal service though it is widely known that the City’s questionable ability to manage such a service could raise issues of waste, mismanagement and corruption.

Early warning signs: Evidence of what is probably a looming post-Christmas garbage pileup.

In the short at least a garbage crisis appears to have been averted. Late on Wednesday evening Archer disclosed to Stabroek Business that he had been in receipt of a letter from King rescinding the earlier letter of termination and that the same had applied in the case of Puran Bros. The two companies, he said, had, in exchange for the rescinding of the two letters of termination, agreed to resume garbage collection duties yesterday.

What clearly continues to be missing from the equation, however, is either an absence of trust between City Hall and the contractors or any degree of certainty as to just how City Hall will meet its garbage collection bills, going forward. Last evening, Archer disclosed that as a precautionary measure he had penned a letter to King insisting that the issue of City Hall providing ironclad assurances with regard to payment be placed at the very top of the agenda for today’s meeting. “What we are seeking to avoid at all costs is a situation in which we are drawn in to the same set of conditions that obtained before central government stepped in,” Archer told Stabroek Business. What is patently clear, however, is that insofar as guaranteeing timely payment to its garbage collection contractors is concerned City Hall has perilously little to bargain with.

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