A delay of more than two days in City Hall giving the ‘green light’ for its two principal waste disposal contractors to return to work following the brokering of a deal to facilitate the early partial settlement of a multi-million dollar debt owning to them may point to a “deeper problem,” a municipal source has told Stabroek Business.
The problem, this newspaper has learnt, may revolve around whether or not the two companies, Cevon’s Waste Management and Puran Brothers should have their full contracts restored to them having withdrawn their services for several days in protest over the non-payment of around $160 million for work done this year since this will necessitate the termination of what was thought to be short-term contracts intended to run for the duration of the work stoppage.
Reports that City Hall may be seeking to review its relationship with the country’s two largest garbage disposal contractors had been fuelled, initially, by comments made by outgoing Mayor Patricia Chase-Green about the two companies and reported in the Stabroek News. By Wednesday, inquiries from City Hall regarding giving the ‘green light’ for a return to garbage disposal duties by Cevon’s and Puran’s were met with a response to the effect that new contracts were being created for the two companies. Asked whether he was aware of this development Cevon’s Waste Management Chief Executive Officer Morse Archer responded in the negative. “I know nothing about that. There is an existing contract and that is as far as my knowledge goes,” Archer told this newspaper.
Up to last Wednesday and still with no telling as to when the two companies will be directed to return to work concerns were mounting about the possibility of the existing impasse drifting into next week, the final week before Christmas. While the deposits of garbage that could be found in parts of the city, pointed to the likelihood that the supposed short-term contractors may, for now, be managing to stave off a garbage crisis, observers were raising the likelihood that the holiday period could generate a level of solid waste that could precipitate an after-Christmas garbage crisis.
When Stabroek Business spoke on Wednesday to a City Hall official who declined to be identified he said that comments directed at the two companies by Mayor Chase-Green to the effect that their behaviour was insensitive did not correspond with the reality of the situation. “The reality is that they are owed large sums of money and I doubt that there are any other companies in this country that would continue to provide service with those kinds of debts outstanding. It is not as though they walked off at the end of the first pay period.”
Last week, the intervention of Minister of Finance Winston Jordan and Minister of Communities Ronald Bulkan had led to the partial payment and the agreement on the part of the two companies to end their work stoppage immediately. At the time Minister Bulkan had pointed out that it was in City Hall ‘s place to sanction the return to work.
Last week’s being the second intervention by central government in a matter of months arising out of a multi-million dollar debt to the two companies by City Hall, it is now clear that for one reason or another the city is unable to pay its garbage disposal debts and this raises the question as to whether an entirely new arrangement for meeting the costs associated with City garbage disposal may not be on the cards.
The differences with its two contractors could hardly have occurred at a worse time for an already beleaguered City Hall. Just over a week ago retired Justice Cecil Kennard, who chaired the recent Commission of Inquiry, openly criticised the commitment as well as the competence of several of the leading officials at City Hall including the Acting Town Clerk and the City Treasurer.